The Korea Herald


Foreign workers' deaths get weak sanctions

Of 187 fatal incidents involving E-9 foreign workers, only 1 employer banned

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : Oct. 17, 2023 - 14:41

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A total of 187 fatal occupational incidents involving E-9 foreign workers occurred during the period from 2021 until June, and only one company was banned from foreign hiring, data showed Tuesday.

The company that was punished -- a marine industry employer -- received a three-year hiring ban as a result of criminal penalties, according to Labor Ministry data gathered by Rep. Lee Joo-hwan, a member of the ruling People Power Party.

Of all 187 cases involving E-9 visa holders' occupational deaths, 39 were still under investigation by police, the data also showed. Lee's office released the number of deadly incidents but did not disclose the number of deaths.

Before a 2022 revision of the Act On The Employment Of Foreign Workers, there were no specific rules to ban employers responsible for workplace fatalities from hiring workers on E-9 visas, regardless of other criminal punishment.

Instead, hiring suspensions were limited to those who violated immigration rules.

The slow progress in strengthening law enforcement to improve the working conditions for foreign workers on E-9 visas -- who come from 16 countries in Southeast Asia and Central Asia to work in manufacturing, construction, and farming -- highlighted the laxity of legal actions on the foreigner hiring rule violators, the first-term lawmaker said.

Lee also suggested that, of 6,754 employers inspected by the Labor Ministry from 2021 until June this year, 3,352 companies -- or half of the inspected -- had violated the rules.

Violators committed over a combined 13,000 violations, according to the data, and 99 of them resulted in the suspension or cancellation of their permission to hire foreign workers. Four led to criminal procedures, and 117 were issued penalty charges.

But 97 percent of violations were handled with nonbinding correction orders.

"Actions must be taken to make sure that foreign workers are not discriminated in the area beyond our legal framework," Lee said in a statement.

"Most (foreigner hiring rule) violators end up getting correction orders, so this leads to calls to strengthen penalty on the violators."

Meanwhile, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration is looking to act more aggressively to address the labor shortage nationwide in part due to the demographic shift and Koreans' preference for white-collar jobs over manual jobs, by inviting more foreigners to the country through work visas like E-9.

The government announced plans in August to increase the quota for E-9 visa workers to 120,000 by the end of next year. That is more than double the 2020 figure of 56,000.

The number of foreigners entering the country with E-9 visas has been rising sharply over the past few years.

Lee released Labor Ministry figures showing that from January to July, the number of people entering Korea with E-9 visas came to some 63,000, implying an uptrend compared with the 2022 annual figure of 88,012. The 2022 figure is higher than 51,365 in 2019, 6,688 in 2020 and 10,501 in 2021.