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South KOREA LIBERALIZES LAW ON REHIRING OF FOREIGN WORKERS
Philippine Ambassador to Seoul Luis T. Cruz reported to the Department that the Korean Parliament recently adopted measures to ease the rehiring of foreign workers who are about to finish their contracts with Korean SMEs under the Employment Permit System (EPS).
Representative Kang Sung-chun of the ruling Grand National Party, together with nine other parliamentarians, introduced amendments that created Act. No. 11276 (Revision on the Act on Employment of Foreign Workers). It was promulgated on 01 February 2012 and will take effect on 02 July 2012.
The new amendments will reduce the waiting period of foreign workers who wish to return to South Korea after completing their contracts from six months to three months. It will also exempt them from taking the Korean language test and employment training. They should meet however, certain criteria such as no record of transfer during the employment period except for justifiable cause; the sector they were engaged in is still experiencing labor shortage; and a new work contract prior to reentry to South Korea.
On 8 February, Ambassador Cruz, together with diplomats from six other embassies, met Representative Kang to thank him personally for the passage of Act. No. 11276. He recalled that the amendments were two of the four petitions signed by 2,355 OFWs and their 633 Korean employers, requesting changes in the EPS law. He added that the Philippine Embassy positively endorsed their petitions to the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) in March 2011.
However, Ambassador Cruz remarked that the EPS law could stand further improvements in order to address the disruption of the operation of Korean SMEs at the end of the employment contract of their foreign workers, and the need to retrain their replacements. He suggested that the contract period of four years and ten months be reviewed and that measures be introduced in the process that will not violate the law on permanent residency and naturalization. He also suggested that the age limit of 38 years should be raised accordingly. He argued that beyond that age, the foreign worker would still be physically capable to contribute his services to the company, and would have gained invaluable experience at the jobsite by then.
Deputy Director Jang Jeong Seo of MOEL clarified that the current age limit requirement was arrived at after considering the provisional demands of domestic companies for temporary workers and the global trend of filling in the shortage of local labor in certain sectors with foreign workers who are hired on a short-term basis. He added that this matter has to be consulted with the Ministry of Justice. Representative Kang said that he would consider the age issue in future discussions at the National Assembly. He added that he would also consider related issues raised by other diplomats, particularly labor conditions in the agricultural sector, and the possibility allowing foreign workers in this sector to transfer to the manufacturing sector.
Representative Kang requested the diplomats of labor-sending countries to remind their foreign workers to abide by the laws and regulations of the host country. He also requested them to assure their workers that wages, labor standards and working conditions in Korea are at par with other advanced countries like the US. He promised to continue advocating improvements to the working conditions of foreign workers, as he believes that they should have fond memories of Korea upon the completion of their contracts.
As of last year, Korea has employed more than 278,000 foreign workers from 15 countries including 24,000 from the Philippines under the seven-year old Employment Permit System. They were employed in the manufacturing, construction, agriculture and fisheries sector.
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