Immigrant workers, gov’t clash on changing jobs

The government and pro-immigrant activists are at loggerheads over a law banning immigrant workers from changing workplaces more than three times during their three-year stay here.

Under the Employment Permit System (EPS), foreign workers residing here on an E-9 visa are in principle allowed to change their workplaces up to three times, with those who are dismissed by the third workplace are sent back to their home country.

Pro-immigrant activists call the restriction “discrimination,” insisting that it apparently infringes upon the freedom of job choice and the general pursuit of freedom — two values guaranteed by the Constitution of the country. They also claim that the regulation threatens foreigners of being exploited at their last work site.

However, the Ministry of Employment and Labor says the restriction is “inevitable” to minimize restricting job opportunities for locals.

The ministry said the “three-change-and-out” policy has received positivereactions from the International Labor Organization (ILO) as it provides at least a clear guideline on how many times they can change workplaces during a given time.

The tug-of-war recently went to the Constitutional Court.

Last Thursday, lawyers from the two sides debated over the constitutionality of the rule at the court in northern Seoul, with hundreds of labor activists staging a rally outside the court.

Three foreign workers from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam filed a complaint against the law in 2007. The petitioners were dismissed from their third Korean company in a business reform initiated to tide over worsening business conditions. They were not given the extra opportunity to find another job and now stay on G-1 visas, which is given to non-Koreans involved in a pending litigation.

Yoon Ji-young, a lawyer representing the petitioners, said, “Due to the regulations, they had to endure exploitation and various kinds of abuse at their third workplace. Given this, the law infringes upon the dignity of a human being, thus is unconstitutional.”

But Lee Chang-hwan, a lawyer for the labor ministry, stressed the necessity of the limit, saying it is intended to protect job opportunities for Korean citizens.

Lee added that should the restriction disappear, employers may have to shoulder soaring wages and the domestic labor market will become tighter.

“This is a common rule adopted by countries with a similar system,” the lawyer said.

Prof. Seol Dong-hoon from Chongbuk National University supported the ministry, saying no country in the world treats locals and immigrant workers equally.

“Countries with an EPS-like system set restrictions in area or workplace change after taking into account each state’s economic and social conditions,” Seol said.

However, Prof. Han Sang-hee of Kunguk University rebutted the government’s claim.

“There are no grounds that limiting the number of job changes for immigrant workers will help protect jobs for locals. Rather, it only invites more illegal sojourners,” he said.



By Park Si-soo(Koreatimes)