Monday, 22 September 2008

MTU Woman + Migrant Workers Meeting Picnic and New Name

On Sept. 14th, (Chuseok), MTU's group for women migrant workers (and friends) went on a picnic to Namsan Park. We took the cable car to Namsan Tower, then looked around and took LOTS AND LOTS of pictures. Some are below.

We also named our group: UMBRELLA: United Migrants Bringing Rights and Labor Action

Monday, 18 August 2008

Article by Former General Secretary Masum

Published in People who Strike the World, Vol. 33 (July-August, 2008)

I am not "Servant" (Meosum); I am the Worker Masum: Letter from a Deported Migrant Worker

Masum Former MTU General Secretary Masum

My memories of my eleven and a half years in South Korea are always surfacing in my mind. I was deported from South Korea on December 13, 2007 and arrived in my country, Bangladesh, on the evening of the 14th. The process of returning to my country was very painful for me. Why did I have to return in this manner? What had I done wrong? No matter how I thought about it I could not come up with the answer. I had gone to South Korea to make money, but I had worked hard to adjust to South Korean society. I wanted to understand South Korea. When I first went to South Korea on May 30, 1996 I had dreams and hopes. When I was deported and returned to Bangladesh those dreams had not been accomplish and I had to abandon my hopes. Why is it that a person who has lived in South Korea for eleven and a half years cannot achieve his dreams and must give up his hopes? The answer to this question also eludes me.

At first I had worked in a fabrics factory. I worked hard for more than 12 hours a days, and after that I learned some skills and even became a manager at the factory. At that time the person I trusted the most was the factory owner, Youngnam Seung. After I was cheated by him I stopped trusting Korean people. I came to think that all Koreans were bad. If someone who like at that time, knows no Korean and nothing of South Korean society, looses all they money he/she has saved for his/her future in one night, what can he/she do? How much does it hurt? How come I know only people who have suffered this kind of experience?

At another factory where I worked the hand of a fellow worker was cut up in a machine. The factory owner merely took the man to a hospital and did not even pay for his treatment. At that time I spent more than 1 month with this friend at the hospital. He was from a different country than me. He was from Peru and his name was Luiz. He did not have family or friends in either Peru or South Korea. The only language he knew was Spanish. The factory owner had promised that he would cover the hospital bills and pay this friend his wages, but he never paid either the bill or the wages and only made threats instead. Why? Because we were 'illegals'. But, why was I illegal? The factory owner has always said the I worked hard; why was it that one month later when it was time to pay wages, he called me illegal? What was the reason that he paid me poorly, treated my poorly, put "illegal" in front of my name and exploited me?

These two incidents made me think about the problems of migrant workers. They made me want to make the problems of migrant workers known to South Korean society- what difficult lives migrant workers, who do not know the language and culture, are leading. In 1998 I and some Bangladesh friends, and friends from other countries who were living in Uijeongbu came together and form a group. If there was a problem at the factory, what could we do about it?

Because we are from other countries, employers treat us differently. There are people from 100 other countries working in South Korea. People from many countries work at one factory. In these cases racial discrimination is very severe. Nigerians, Mongolians, Bangladeshis and Filipinos work together but get different wages and are treated differently. The discrimination towards Africans is particularly harsh. There is also a large difference between the wages of undocumented migrant workers and industrial trainees and there is also discrimination between them. As I witnessed and experienced wages cut on payday, forced overtime labor, verbal abuse everyday and being cursed at when tired from overwork I came to think, "South Korea must be a place without laws." And I thought I must not be a person or a worker, but a slave. This is how I felt.

My name is Masum. At my factory, I was called "Meosum" (servant). I did not know the meaning of "meosum". When I began to learn Korean and asked the meanings of "meosum", "ssipalnom", "gaesaeki" people would not tell me the answers. It was only much much later that I came to find out. When I was called "gaesaeki" I called the person the same thing right back. I was hit. I didn't know. I didn't know what it meant so I had just called other people the same thing. After that I stayed quiet, didn't say anything to anyone and started to watch movies and dramas on television. If I worked day shifts, I would watch tv until about 2 or 3 in the morning; if I worked night shifts I would watch until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I moved from Uijeongbu to Dongdaemun and then I really began to learn Korean. After that if someone swore at me I didn't say anything. If people get angry at me I say, "call me my name. I have a name given to me by my parents and I am not a stupid person." The South Korea I had read about and the South Korea where I worked are so different.

In 2000 I volunteered for a UNESCO cultural exchange program and learned quite a bit. I began going all around the country looking for good people. One day I joined the Equality Trade Union Migrants' Branch and began to do other work to make the situation of migrant workers in South Korea known throughout society. Employers create a division between Korean and migrant workers to make profit and migrant workers experience discrimination from employers and Korean workers. But I thought, that there should not be discrimination between me and the people I worked with. To achieve this, I spent a lot of time with Korean colleagues. I wanted to know what these people wanted and what they thought of us. What I know is that because we take Korean workers jobs and are paid less their lives have also become harder. The employers say "migrant workers receive low pay, why should Korean workers have to get higher pay, why should they have to work less?"

I realized that this is how they created antagonism between migrant workers and Korean workers. And I thought, "this has to be changed; we came from other countries to earn money, but not to cause any harm to Korean workers. How can we solve this problem?" At first I had very good feelings about Korean workers, but after a little while these disappeared. We workers, whether foreign or native, were all being used by the employers. At that time, I and the other migrant workers I was active with thought about this problem a lot. We thought, "we have to struggle; we have to win our rights; we have to get a fair amount for the work we do and be respected as much as we deserve." These thoughts made me became highly active in MTU.

There were a lot of organizations working for migrant workers' human rights, but I always felt something was missing. I felt that no other organizations besides MTU could properly represent the voice of migrant workers. That is because we knew the best about the situation at our factories, the difficulties, the hardships. I thought that we had to be the ones to speak up about our problems. And I wanted to win the same respect as native workers. Because in order for us to achieve our rights we have to live with the same hearts as Korean workers. We have to break free of the oppression we were experiencing. Was thinking like this too ambitious?

Carrying out the sit-in protest at Myeongdong Cathedral for over a year between 2003 and 2004, I learned a lot about South Korean society. In South Korean society, not only migrant workers, but many other workers as well are experiencing discrimination and making sacrifices to achieve their rights. I realized that it is because of the laws of the South Korean government that native workers have bad feelings towards migrant workers. At that time I was struggling to change the government's misguided policy.

As I lived for a long time in South Korea, the country worked its way deep into my heart and I came to love it. This is not because South Korea is a rich country but because I came to understand the lives and pain of Korean workers and I witnessed them struggling to live in similar conditions as I was. Witnessing people fighting proudly for their rights and refusing to give up change my belief that all Koreans were bad, which had developed when I was mistreated by my employers. South Korea's labor law is pretty good, but the workers are not receiving fair treatment. It is the capitalists' greed to make money that is make the lives of workers hard. There is a law, but it is not used properly. I felt pain along side Korean workers because the government made irregular work, increased the number of irregular workers, brought in migrant workers and increased competition, made workers fight among themselves only so that people with money could make more money and even if migrant workers make money they could not live well. I thought we had to solve these problems together and so I have struggled together with Korean workers.

They call me foreigner or migrant worker, but I see myself as someone who has contributed to the South Korean economy. My hard work fed my employer, kept the machines running in my factory and helped the Korean economy develop. The South Korean economy cannot do without the 3D industries. And without migrant workers the machines in 3D factories do not run. How is it that I, who learned the Korean language, who learned Korean culture, who knows about Korean society, can be called a foreign worker? I am a foreigner. I came from another country, but I am a worker of Korea. A Korean worker. My skin and my mother tongue may be different, but it is hard to accept discrimination due to these differences. In 2005 when our President was arrested as soon as we had made MTU and the government refused to acknowledge our union status it only made my resolve to win my rights even stronger. In 2006 and 2007 I was active as MTU's General Secretary. I kept thinking migrant workers must be treated better and raised my voice. The government may not acknowledge how much migrant workers contribute to the South Korean economy, but I know the truth.

South Korean exports have been expanding and migrant workers have done a big part in this. Before I went to South Korea, there was almost nothing from South Korea in my home in Bangladesh, but after I went, I sent many Korean things back home. Not only me, but the migrant workers from over a hundred countries in South Korea have done the same thing as me making Korean goods known to their family, friends and people in their neighborhood. This has an incredible advertising effect. There is also another side of this. Right now there are many goods that were made in the 3D factories we worked in in my home in Bangladesh. Of these, one I made myself. I am proud of this.

Migrant workers who have been in South Korea for a long time teach Korean language and culture and the work we have to do to newcomers when they first arrive. The South Korean economy needs people who can do this. Because it thinks that such people make it harder to exploit not only migrant but also Korean workers, the South Korean government keeps bringing in new migrant workers who do not know the language and culture and deporting the migrant workers who have worked for a long time. The government is not acknowledging how needed these people are. It carries out false advertising and forces those who have worked for a long time out. The media distorts its depictions of migrant workers. There are now over 400 thousand migrant workers in South Korea and while maybe 1-2% of them have done something wrong it uses this to attack migrant workers in general. I fought to oppose this. When the government did something the South Korean people did not want I participated with them in their opposition and protests. Anti-war, anti-FTA, abolition of irregular work, abolition of the National Security Law- I participated in all of these movements.

The South Korea I saw during the IMF crisis was very emotional for me. The image of the entire people working to save the country made it emotional. On the other hand, I also spent a lot of time thinking about what the government had done to the people. Mass increase of irregular work, dispatch of troops to Iraq, FTAs, lay-offs. The ROK is working for its people. The president said this sort of thing proudly but this is not what I could see at all. In addition, the situation of migrant workers kept getting worse. The thing migrant workers want is to be accepted as members of society. We still have not won this yet.

On November 27, 2007, the day the presidential campaigns started, I awoke, went out my front door and was arrested right in front of my house. While they were arresting me the immigration officers said that since I had lived in South Korea for over 10 years I had to leave the country. I was imprisoned in Cheongju Detention Center from November 27 to December 12. During that time I cam to look back on my over 11 years of life in South Korea. The work that I had done, my experiences, the people I had met, the bad things I had suffered, my family and my Korean friends, my comrades- all of these memories surfaced in my mind.

Ever since October 2003 when I became active, first in ETUMB and then in MTU, I was not able make money properly. But I have never had regrets because of this. The most regretful and frustrating thing has been that South Korea is a good country and the people of South Korea are good but because of the government's policy they have become bad people and South Korea has become a bad country. To the government working for MTU is a criminal act, but to me it is an act of finding my rights. A High Court in South Korea made a ruling telling the South Korean government to recognize MTU, but the government has not accepted it. Workers are not workers, not people, not humans; they are slaves- this is what the South Korean government thinks. If the government is so sure and proud in what it is doing, why couldn't its officers take me out of the front gate? Why did they have to take me out the back, and not only but even sent me away through a hole cut in the security fence? The South Korean government does not know the meaning of human rights; it thinks that migrant workers are nothing but slaves. The government's actions are criminal and yet, without explanation, they treated me, a powerless migrant worker, as a criminal. I have never committed a crime in South Korea; I have never done anything wrong. I was victimized, but I never did any harm to South Korea. So why did they send me to Bangladesh and hand me over to the police? What did I do wrong? When we did a sit-in protest at the South Korean National Human Rights Commission in 2005-2006 I believed the Human Rights Commission President when he said that from that point on the government was going to work actively to protect migrant workers' human rights. But the number of migrant workers who were deported like me is only increasing. Since 2002 the government has been targeting, arresting and deporting migrant worker activists. In the process of arrest their human rights are violated. Where is the justice in this? The Ministry of Justice are the people who are supposed to uphold the Constitution, so who punishes them when they violate it?

I sincerely hope that South Korea becomes a country where good people live, a country that is good to live in and a country that treats migrant workers like family. Even if a worker comes from another country, that person is still someone's wife or husband, mother or father, son or daughter. Treating people as people is the meaning of human rights. Even though the Secretary General of the United Nations is a South Korean person, South Korea still does not acknowledge the international agreements and ILO conventions related to migrant workers. This shows you that South Korea is ignoring the human rights of migrant workers.

I have met a lot of South Korean people, come to understand them and learned a lot from them. This has been a great gift to me. In the future I will do work to help people on the bottom of society for the sake of society's development. I believe that any society where the weak are not safe is not a well constructed society. I hope that South Korea will become a country that respects the human rights and labor rights of migrant workers.

*Masum's testimony was recorded by Korea Labor Network activist Lee Won-bae

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Press Conference Critiquing 4-years of EPS

Today, August 13, at 11:00am the Alliance for Migrants' Equality and Human Rights held a press conference

"Speaking about EPS: Give Labor Rights to Migrant Workers" in front of the Government Complex in Gwanghwamun.

Speakers included KCTU Vice President Heo Young-gu, Minbyun Lawyer Jang Seo-youn and JCMK General Secretary Lee Young. A Filipino migrant worker also spoke, giving personal testimony about the harsh treatment EPS workers receive and the difficulty they face finding decent workplaces. The press conference ended with a performance about winning labor rights.

The Alliance for Migrants' Equality and Human Rights will also hold a protest at 2:oopm thus Sunday, August 17 at Maronier Park in Hyehwa-dong.

Protest to Say "No to EPS after 4 Years, Stop the Crackdown and Deportations, Protect Migrant Wokers' Labor Rights"

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Statement on Deportation of Bangladeshi Workers from Kuwait

The government of Kuwait has been deporting migrant workers who participated in 3-strike last week to protest unpaid wages and poor working conditions. Here is MTU's statement, which we sent to the Kuwait Embassy in South Korea.

Statement Calling for an End to Deportations and Protection of the Labor Rights of Bangladeshi Migrant Workers in Kuwait

The Seoul-Gyeonggi Incheon Migrants Trade Union of South Korea (MTU) expresses grave concern over the mass deportation of Bangladeshi workers by the Kuwaiti government in response to their protests against unjust working conditions. The actions of the Kuwaiti government represent disregard for the just demands of migrant workers to fair wages and treatment and repression of their rights as workers to organize and strike, rights guaranteed in UN and ILO conventions.

Last week, thousands of Bangladeshi and other migrant workers went on strike and took to the streets in protest against underpayment and non-payment of wages, deceptive recruiting practices, falsified contracts and inhumane working conditions. While the government of Kuwait has acknowledge the abuses against migrant workers and set a minimum wage for menial workers on government contracts at 40 dinar ($151), it has respond to the strike by arresting and deporting hundreds of those who participated. According to the Reuters India, as many as 1,000 or more have been deported with plans to deport hundreds more.
The Kuwaiti government has said the Bangladeshi workers were engaged in illegal strike activities. Yet Kuwait is known to have consistently practiced repressive labor policies in violation of workers’ rights to organize and strike. In addition, it has done nothing while Kuwaiti employers and contractors continue to violate the rights of migrant workers. About 200,000 Bangladeshis work in Kuwait as cleaners or in other menial jobs. They are routinely paid only a fraction of the wages stated in their original contract- as low as 10 dinar ($37)/month when contracts state their wages at 50$ dinar ($187) and are forced to live and work in substandard conditions.

As a union formed for and by migrant workers, MTU wishes to stress the right of all workers to organize and strike to improve their working conditions whether they are in their home countries or not. We see the deportation of Bangladeshi workers from Kuwait as an act of repression against this right. We therefore call on the Kuwait government to halt the deportations immediately and ensure that all the migrant workers involved be paid the backwages owed to them. We also call on the Kuwaiti government to uphold its commitment to investigating and eliminating violations of migrant workers rights by employers and contractors. Further, we call on the Bangladeshi Embassy to respond to complaints of abuses by recruiters and employers and to take an active role in responding to the repression against Bangladeshi workers in Kuwait.

August 9, 2008
Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

KCTU Seoul Regional Council Press Conference Criticizing Crackdown and Repression of MTU Members

On Wednesday, July 30th at 12:00pm the KCTU Seoul Regional Council and supporters held a press conference in front of the the Seoul Immigration Control Office criticizing the joint crackdown that occured from May to July and calling for an end of discrimination and repression against arrested MTU members.

During the May to July joint crackdown the government sought to arrest 9,000 migrant workers. Despite daily raids, during which many migrants were injured and experienced human rights abuses, it is predicted the crackdown will not stop at the end of the month.

What is worse, MTU members experience particularly unfair treatment because of their MTU membership. They are questioned about MTU activities and their relationship to the union, have been called "terrorist" and experienced other verbal abuse.

At the July 30th press conference KCTU Seoul Regional Council and supporters called for an end to this repression against MTU members and the barbaric crackdown against undocumented migrant workers.

The press conference was attended by: KCTU Seoul Regional Council and its East Region Committe, Seoul General Union, The Association of Migrant Workers' Supporters, People's Solidarity for Social Progress, Human Rights Sarangbang, Korean Student March, Workers Liberation Student Solidarity, Seongdong-Gwangjin Migrants' Human Rights Defender and the Migrants Trade Union.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008


Please show your support for the Migrants Trade Union and the right of migrant workers in South Korea to form and join trade unions. Send a statement expressing support for MTU’s right to freedom of association to the South Korean Supreme Court.

The Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union (MTU), an affiliated of the Korean Confederation of Trade unions, was formed in 2005 as a union for and by migrant workers regardless of visa status. We seek to improve working conditions, stop the crackdown against undocumented migrant workers and win migrant workers’ human and labor rights.

Since we were found the government of South Korea has sought to stop our activities, refusing to acknowledge our legal union status and targeting our leadership for arrest and deportation. This repression has grown even stronger in recent months. MTU’s second president, vice president and general secretary were arrested in a targeted crackdown and deported at the end of last year. And again, on May 2nd MTU’s third president and vice president were arrested by immigration officers who had been waiting in hiding for them and then deported on May 15th. The Ministry of Justice carried out the deportation despite the fact that the National Human Rights Commission had made a decision calling for a stay of deportation until its investigation into human rights violations during the arrests into was complete.

This heighten repression comes right as the Supreme Court decision that will decide on MTU’s legal union status draws near. The Ministry of Labor and South Korean government have been refusing to grant MTU legal union status based on the assertion that undocumented migrant workers do not have the right to freedom of association under Korean law. MTU has since been fighting to gain recognition. On February 1, 2007, the Seoul High Court, overturning a pervious decision, ruled in favor of MTU’s legal union status, stating clearly that undocumented migrant workers are recognized as workers under the South Korean Constitution and the Trade Union Law, and therefore the subjects of legally protected basic labor rights, including the right to freedom of association. The Ministry of Labor appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court where a decision is expected within this year, as early as next month.

International human rights conventions which South Korea has signed, and which it is bound to respect under its own Constitution, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) all protect the rights of workers regardless of social status to freedom of association. In particular, the CERD General Recommendation No. 30(2004) states that “guarantees against racial discrimination apply to non-citizens regardless of their immigration status” and that “all individuals are entitled to the enjoyment of labor and employment rights, including the freedom of assembly and association, once an employment relationship has been initiated until it is terminated.” In addition, ILO Convention No. 87 protects the right to freedom of association for all workers, “without distinction whatsoever” and has been shown to apply to undocumented migrant workers through Committee on Freedom of Association recommendations (UGT, 2001 and AFL-CIO/CTM, 2002). While South Korea has not ratified Convention No. 87, it is bound to uphold the rights protected in it as a member of the ILO under the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998).

Despite this basis in domestic and national law, the Ministry of Labor is still refusing to acknowledge MTU’s legal union status. The new conservative president Lee Myeong-bak has also stated he will not tolerate MTU. MTU’s needs the support of organizations around the world to assure it will gain the legal recognition it deserves!

International human rights and labor organizations and the South Korean National Human Rights Commission have all decided to send position statements in support of MTU to the Supreme Court. We are asking that your organization also issue a statement supporting MTU’s legal union status and send it by fax to the Supreme Court. Please also send a copy to the Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Justice. All statements will be announced at an upcoming press conference.

A sample statement is included below. However, we welcome self-written statements reflecting the position of your organization as these send and even more powerful message.

Please send a copy of your statement to the KCTU at, and MTU at

Sample Position Statement
Supreme Court, Republic of Korea
Teukbyul 3bu
219 Seocho-ro, Seocho-gu
Seoul 137-750
Republic of Korea
Fax: 82-2-533-2824

Ministry of Labor
427-718 Government Complex II,
Jungang-dong1, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do,
Republic of Korea
Fax: 82-2-3679-6581

Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea
Building 1, Gwacheon Government Complex,
Jungang-dong 1, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do
Republic of Korea
Fax: 82-2-2110-3079

Also fax a copy to MTU at:

Regarding Supreme Court Case No. 2007du 4995

To the Honorable Justices of the South Korean Supreme Court

The Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union was founded in 2005 and has been carrying out legitimate union activities since. The South Korean Ministry of Labor and South Korean administration have refused to acknowledge MTU’s legal union status because its founders are undocumented migrant workers. However, as was shown in the Seoul High Court ruling of February 1, 2007, the South Korean Constitution and the Trade Union Law protect the right to freedom of association of all those who enter into employment relations as workers, including undocumented migrant workers.

International law to which South Korea is party including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) all protect the rights of workers, regardless of social status, to freedom of association. In particular, the CERD General Recommendation No. 30(2004) states that “guarantees against racial discrimination apply to non-citizens regardless of their immigration status” and that “all individuals are entitled to the enjoyment of labor and employment rights, including the freedom of assembly and association, once an employment relationship has been initiated until it is terminated.” In addition, ILO Convention No. 87, which South Korea is bound to uphold as a member of the ILO, protects the right to freedom of association for all workers, “without distinction whatsoever” and has been shown to apply to undocumented migrant workers through CFA recommendations (UGT, 2001 and AFL-CIO/CTM, 2002).

We are concerned that the Ministry of Labor’s denial of MTU’s union status is in contradiction to these international conventions and to South Korean domestic law. It is our position that countries that adhere to international human and labor rights standards must protect the right of migrant workers, regardless of visa status, to freedom of association. As such, it is our position that the denial of MTU’s legal union status should be reversed and MTU should be granted recognition.

We hope that the Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court will take these matters into consideration and make a decision that upholds the South Korean Constitution and the international conventions to which South Korea is party.


Representative’s Name,

Monday, 7 July 2008

Alliance for Migrants' Rights starts Sit-in in front of Seoul Immigration Office

The Alliance for Migrants' Equality and Human Rights, a coalition of which MTU is a part, began a sit-in protest in front of the Seoul Immigration Controls Office yesterday, July 7. The sit in began after a press conference against the massive crackdown against migrant workers and the pending revision of the immigration controls law, which will strengthen the authority of immigration officers.

The press conference was held jointly with a press conference by the Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea, which called for the release of Sharon Desesto, a 8-month pregnant Filipina women who was arrested last Thursday by immigration officers. Her husband, her sole care-taker, was alos arrested on Friday. Several Kasammako officers and members also attended and. Due the the demands of MTU, JCMK and Kasammako the two were released by the end of the day.

MTU held down the sit-in protest yesterday and other member organizations of the Alliance will continue it until the end of the week. MTU is also currently carrying out a petition campaign to stop the crackdown and achieve legalization of MTU.