Gov’t to build more dorms for migrant farm workers

Migrant workers harvest spinach inside a local greenhouse in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, in June 2023. Korea Times file

The government plans to improve living conditions here for migrant workers by building 20 more dormitories across the country, to be completed by 2026, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Thursday.The measure comes after the government said it will invite a record number of foreigners this year to support the country’s agricultural industry nationwide.Agricultural Innovation Policy Office Chief Kwon Jae-han from the ministry on the same day joined a ceremony in Gochang, North Jeolla Province, where a new dormitory for migrant workers working at a local blueberry farm was completed. Workers at the farm included seasonal foreign laborers who work during harvest seasons in April-June and August-October.The dormitory in Gochang is one of 10 new dormitories the government plans to build within this year, each in a different city or county nationwide including Haenam in South Jeolla Province, Yeongyang in North Gyeongsang Province and Cheongyang in South Chungcheong Province.The authority has already designated other cities and counties where they will build another 10 new dormitories by 2026, including Bonghwa and Gimcheon in North Gyeongsang and Anseong in Gyeonggi Province.New dormitories are part of the government’s plan to improve the workers’ living conditions here which have drawn fierce criticism for their horrendous conditions. In December 2020, a Cambodian female migrant worker in Pocheon, a city in the north of Gyeonggi Province, was found dead inside a greenhouse that had been repurposed as living quarters for a number of migrant workers. The structure wasn’t insufficient to protect her from the frigid winter conditions.

Under the government plan, a revised enforcement decree under the country’s Farmland Act takes effect in July, in which residential structures for farmers and others in agricultural industry can be used for housing local or foreign workers at local farms. To make the plan feasible, the decree has raised the land area ceiling allowed for such structures from 660 square meters to 1,000 square meters. These measures are to support the government’s plan to invite 61,631 migrant workers this year, the biggest scale ever. It is a jump from last year of more than 10,000 and 4.9 times the figure from 2021. Among this year’s figure is 45,631 seasonal workers, up from 35,604 last year.While the ministry anticipates more foreign workers will arrive in the country than ever this year, allocating them to workplaces with particular needs remains a challenge for the authority, especially during the months when seasonal workers crowd the country. Over 70 percent of the entire migrant workers here are concentrated during peak periods each year.To facilitate the allocation better, the ministry said it will increase employer-worker matching agencies from 170 to 189 this year. A number of such employment agencies run by the country’s National Agricultural Cooperative Federation (NACF) will also be increased from 19 to 70 this year and the service will be expanded to 130 cities and counties by 2027.”Keeping our farmers with enough hands on deck, especially during the harvesting seasons, is the key objective,” Kwon said. “We’ll monitor employment status in real-time and respond to varying situations as promptly as possible.”Migrant workers advocacy groups, while welcoming the government’s move to build new dormitories, expressed concerns whether the new housing quarters will restrain foreigners by enforcing excessive rules to control their behaviors such as curfew or other strict time scheduling.An activist from Migrants’ Trade Union said that several member of NACF in Hamyang, South Gyeongsang Province, who managed a dormitory for dozens of migrant workers forced foreign nationals to come back to the dormitory and sleep at certain hours. The management ran a point-base system and deducted a point from any person who failed to comply with their rules. The final penalty was eviction from the dormitory.”The farm workers must have been worried their employees might flee their workplaces and wanted to control them,” the activist said. “But still, that is a violation of personal freedom. With the government officials limited in number, the dormitories will have to be operated by private groups. I’m worried that such inhumane management might occur in some of these new 온라인카지노 dormitories.”

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