Seeking his unpaid wages, Vietnamese migrant worker is reported as “illegal”

Posted on : 2014-12-05 16:15 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Advocates worry that illegal status could be used as a pretext to deny workers their wages
 a migrant worker from Vietnam who was arrested at the Ministry of Employment and Labor office in Hwaseong
a migrant worker from Vietnam who was arrested at the Ministry of Employment and Labor office in Hwaseong

A Vietnamese migrant worker is facing deportation after being reported to police by his employer as an illegal resident when he demanded unpaid wages - all while labor supervisors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MEL) looked on.

Human rights groups are up in arms over allegations that one of the labor supervisors encouraged the employer to report the worker to police.

According to accounts from the Hwaseong Foreign Workers’ Center and the ministry’s Pyeongtaek office on Dec. 4, the Vietnamese worker, 32-year-old Quang Dan, visited the office in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, at 4 pm on Dec. 2 to file a petition demanding back severance pay of 3.8 million won (US$3,400) from his company. The MEL office asked Quang and the company’s president to report there the next day.

After an investigation was opened by a ministry labor supervisor identified by the surname Park, the company complained that it had been “blindsided,” claiming that Quang had agreed not to receive dormitory costs or severance pay.

Lee Na-ri, a secretary for the Gyeonggi Institute of Research and Policy Development for Migrants’ Human Rights who accompanied Quang, countered that severance pay “is a legal obligation, not something that you decide to give or not to give.”

Lee noted that Quang had demanded payment over ten times in two years, only to be told variously that the “company no longer exists” or that it didn’t have the money. Eventually, the company suggested a compromise payment of one million won (US$900).

During the meeting, Park inquired as to whether Quang was in South Korea illegally. A company official replied in the affirmative.

“Illegal workers have to be reported. Make the severance payment,” Park was reported as saying.

Lee protested Park’s actions.

“What are you doing telling them to report him as illegal when he came here for wages he didn’t receive?” she asked. “Is this a threat?”

As the exchange grew more heated, other labor supervisors told company representatives that their job was “only to address severance payments” and that they were not concerned with the legality of a worker’s residency. They questioned the representatives on the decision to report Quang’s status while they were present, and Park on his behavior.

But within 15 minutes, Quang was arrested at the scene on the company’s tip. On Dec. 3, he was transferred to the Hwaseong Foreigners’ Detention Center.

In a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh, Park insisted that he “did not tell [the company] to report [Quang].”

“The company said that it was going to report him, and I basically told them that they needed to pay the overdue amount, and then the rest of it [the report] was up to them to decide,” he said.

Rev. Han Yun-su of the Hwaseong Foreign Workers’ Center fretted about the chilling effect the case may have.

“If the Ministry of Employment and Labor is telling companies to report illegal residents who come petitioning for unpaid wages, then where are all the foreign worker who are not getting paid going to turn?” he asked.

Han also noted that the company in question “has shown a repeated pattern of using illegal residency status as an excuse not to pay severance.”

By Hong Yong-duk, south Gyeonggi correspondent

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