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31 July


Protests for lower minimum wage for foreigners were in Korea

Koreans don`t want increasing salaries for foreigners

Photo: GMHRC

/NOVOSTIVL/ The season has come again for South Korea to begin grueling negotiations to set the minimum wage for the next year. This time, the debate involves calls for a lower minimum wage for low-skilled migrant workers. This article appeared in The Korea Herald.

"When migrant workers first start work here, they can only do 70 percent of what Koreans do. It takes more than one year for them to get used to Korean culture, language and work," said Lee Ahn-kyu, who runs a foundry plant that employs 23 workers in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province.

"Should I still pay them the same amount I pay Koreans? It is unfair for the Korean workers," said Lee, who has eight foreign workers on his payroll. "For a month of work, foreign workers earn what they could spend back home for a year. Isn’t the gap a bit too much?"

Lee would rather hire Koreans, even if he had to pay them more, but Koreans willing to work in such a difficult work environment are hard to find, he said.

Last month, Rep. Yi Wan-young of the conservative Liberty Korea Party submitted a bill that stipulates a lower minimum wage for foreign workers for a two-year probationary period, aimed at easing the burden on small and medium-sized manufacturers struggling with the country’s dramatic minimum wage hike.

SMEs and construction, agriculture and fisheries businesses, which rely heavily on foreign workers, have called for a "graded payment system" under which low-skilled migrant workers would be given a lower minimum wage. They cite foreign workers’ lack of experience and low productivity as justification for such a system.

The idea, however, has been met with strong criticism for discrimination against foreign workers on the basis of nationality, as well as undermining a fundamental principle of the minimum wage: the need to guarantee labor rights equally for all workers.

Experts also express concerns that different minimum wage rates for foreign workers would increase the nation’s dependence on its foreign labor force, worsen working conditions in low-skills sectors and further fragment the country’s labor market.

For now, the chances of Rep. Yi’s bill passing parliament remain low, due to domestic and international legal hurdles.