The Korea Herald

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Korea authorizes first migrant workers’ union

By 윤민식

Published : Aug. 20, 2015 - 18:29

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The nation’s first migrant workers’ union Thursday received a permit to legally form a labor union from the government after a monthlong sit-in in central Seoul demanding the long-overdue authorization.

“We are very happy to receive the permit to eventually form the union,” Nazmul Hossain, secretary-general of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union, told The Korea Herald.

“Our weeks-long efforts seem to have paid off,” he said right after the union was officially registered at around 11:30 a.m.

(Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald) (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)


The authorization came a month after the MTU launched a sit-in protest in front of the Seoul Regional Ministry of Employment and Labor building in central Seoul, calling for the permit from the ministry.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor has refused to authorize the establishment of the migrant workers’ union despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that foreign workers illegally residing in Korea could establish a labor union.

The historic ruling came on June 25, 10 years after the group filed a lawsuit in 2005 protesting the ministry‘s ban on its establishment. The court invalidated the ban, recognizing the unregistered migrants as “workers” in accordance with labor law if they offer labor in return for wage.

(Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald) (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)


Following the ruling, the MTU requested an authorization permit from the ministry. But the ministry rejected its application twice in the past two months, taking issue with what it called “politically oriented clauses” in the union’s bylaws.

“In the labor union’s original rules, there were some contents against the upper law,” Oh Yeong-min, an official from the ministry, told The Korea Herald. 

The current labor law stipulates that an organization cannot be authorized as a trade union if its activities are politically motivated.

The MTU’s bylaws had included that it would pursue legalizing unregistered migrant workers in Korea and abolishing the Employment Permit System, which led the ministry to demand the union to water down the clauses in question.

“Such clause was viewed as politically oriented, as it had nothing to do with improving their working conditions,” the official said.

The ministry finally accepted the application after the MTU changed its purpose of establishment to improving the social and economic status of migrant workers here, rather than to abolish the EPS system and grant amnesty to illegally residing migrant workers.

Under the EPS, unskilled workers from 15 nations are allowed to enter Korea to work for up to three years. But migrant workers and civic groups have accused the system of being employer-friendly, giving leeway to Korean employers to exploit migrant workers.

The MTU has some 1,100 members mostly from Southeast and Central Asia. It belongs to the nation’s second-largest labor union, the Korean Confederation of Trade Union.

According to government data, the number of migrant workers legally staying in Korea on the EPS visa stands at 553,000, while 208,778 are thought to be residing in the country illegally.

By Ock Hyun-ju
(laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)