S. Korea’s foreign worker plan put on hold as Philippines suspends labour deployment


The South Korean and local governments are trying to convince the Philippine government to resume sending workers. - AFP

SEOUL: A moratorium set by the Philippine government on sending the country’s workers to South Korea has put the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s plan to bring in foreign domestic workers on hold, while also leaving some local farms with a shortage of workers as they will have fewer seasonal workers from the Philippines than in previous years.

The Seoul city government said in 2023 that it would bring in around 100 Filipinas to work as domestic helpers during the second half of 2023 in a pilot programme to tackle the shortage of people willing to work as maids in South Korea. However, the plan has been delayed as permission has been withheld by the Philippine government.

Instead, the city government has said it now aims to bring in 100 Filipinas in the first half of 2024.

“To be honest, we don’t know yet whether we will be able to bring them in the first half of the year. This is because the Philippine government must grant permission, and further discussions must take place on specific issues such as wages,” an official from the Seoul city government told The Korea Herald on Feb 7 on condition of anonymity.

Manila cited the growing number of human rights violations that Filipinos have faced in South Korea as the reason it suspended the deployment of the workers.

According to local reports, the Philippines’ Department of Migrant Workers has been receiving a number of complaints from overseas Filipino workers in South Korea. The complaints range from unsafe labour conditions and underpayment of wages to overwork and even worker deaths.

For instance, on Jan 9, two seasonal farm workers from the Philippines who worked in Haenam, South Jeolla province, filed a complaint against a Korean broker surnamed Hong with the South Jeolla Province Police Agency for human trafficking.

It is known that the broker managed the Filipino workers’ bank accounts and withdrew millions of won from them on the pretext of brokerage fees, along with accommodation fees, and took away their passports.

The South Korean government provides work visas to foreign seasonal workers from 11 countries for five to eight months at a time due to labour shortages in the country’s agricultural and fisheries sectors.

According to the Justice Ministry, there were 3,612 foreign seasonal workers in 2019, with the figure multiplying more than fivefold to 19,718 in 2022. The ministry brought in 26,788 seasonal farm and fishery workers through such visas in the first half of 2023.

According to local governments, seasonal workers from the Philippines account for more than 20 per cent of all seasonal workers in South Korea. Between 2018 and 2022, among the 11 countries of origin for such workers, the Philippines sent 4,973 people, the most.

The South Korean and local governments are thus trying to convince the Philippine government to resume sending workers. But it is unclear when that will happen, according to officials with knowledge of the matter.

Some local governments have responded by bringing in seasonal workers from other countries. For example, Wanju, North Jeolla province, brought in seasonal workers from Mongolia, Thailand and Cambodia in 2024. - The Korea Herald News Network/ANN

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