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Fatal Fire in Korea Highlights Reliance on Migrant Labor for Undesirable Jobs

Daniel Kim Views  

Yonhap News

Amidst the confirmation that most of the fatalities in the fire at the Aricell factory in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province on June 24 were foreign temporary workers. Media outlets have highlighted the increasing dependence on foreign labor in South Korea.

AP News and The New York Times (NYT) reported on June 25 that “a fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea killed 22 people,” noting that “most of the deceased were Chinese migrant workers.”

AP explained the reason why the damage was concentrated on foreign workers, stating, “In recent decades, many Chinese, including ethnic Koreans from China, have migrated to South Korea in search of jobs. Like other foreign workers, they often take on factory jobs or physically demanding low-wage jobs that Koreans tend to avoid.”

The NYT quoted a South Korean firefighter’s explanation that the foreign workers who died were day laborers unfamiliar with the factory structure. It pointed out that “South Korea, which has been suffering from a low birth rate for decades, increasingly relies on migrant workers to fill jobs that locals avoid.”

They also noted that small companies in industrial cities like Hwaseong, where the fire occurred, and rural areas could not operate without these migrant workers.

The Financial Times (FT) pointed out that South Korea, which heavily relies on manufacturing, has made efforts to improve working conditions. However, industrial accidents are still frequent.

Despite substantial investments by companies to improve safety, South Korea had one of the highest industrial accident death rates among developed countries last year, with about 600 deaths. They reported that many leading manufacturers, including Samsung Electronics, POSCO, and Hyundai Heavy Industries, have been embroiled in health and safety disputes.

Reuters reported that despite South Korea passing the Serious Accidents Punishment Act two years ago, which allows for the punishment of business owners in the event of fatal accidents, dozens of workers die from industrial accidents every year.

According to the police and fire authorities, out of the 22 fatalities from the fire, 18 were Chinese nationals, 1 Laotian national, and 1 unidentified person.

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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