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Industrial Accidents Haunt Migrant Workers
A growing number of foreign workers have suffered from industrial accidents due to a lack of safety measures at their workplaces.
The Labor Ministry said around 1,300 foreign migrant workers fell victim to industrial accidents in the first half of last year.
In 2003, 2,336 migrant workers were victimized by industrial disasters, up from 1,760 in 2002, 1,278 in 2001 and 1,197 in 2000.
The problem is that migrant workers have not been able to receive appropriate treatment as many of them are working here illegally and frequently move from one workplace to another.
As of November last year, the number of foreign workers was estimated at 422,980, of which 185,719, or 43.9 percent, were illegal residents, according to the Ministry of Justice.
Most of the workers are engaged in 3-D jobs_difficult, dirty and dangerous_ as seen in the case of five female Thai workers who developed polyneuropathy as a result of long-term exposure to normal hexane at their factory without wearing protective gear.
More problematic is that the victims didn't receive regular health checkups, which could have prevented their symptoms from worsening.
"Workers at workplaces exposed to harmful chemicals have to receive special health checkups in order to prevent vocational diseases, which it has been properly observed, are due to business proprietors' lack of attention to workplace safety," an official at the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU).
According to the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency, 45.6 percent of companies hiring migrant workers conduct general health checkups for their employees.
Moreover, only 27 percent of the firms conduct specialized checkups, which are obligatory every six to 24-month period for companies handling toxic materials.
"As a great number of migrant workers are illegally residing here, they are not benefiting from both preventive checkups and treatment after an accident," the FKTU official said.
"To authenticate a sickness as a vocational disease, a worker needs a series of close examinations. It is a pipedream for migrant workers to get some time off for the checkups,'' an official at the Migrant Worker's House said. "Most of the workers, especially illegal workers, cannot tell their employer for fear of losing their job. They just endure the pain by taking analgesics."
A Labor Ministry official said foreign migrant workers are eligible to benefit from the industrial accident compensation insurance even if they are illegal workers.
"Illegal migrant workers can take advantage of the compensation insurance for both industrial accidents and vocational diseases such as chemical poisoning," the official said. "They can file an application with the Korea Labor Welfare to receive benefits."
However, chronic diseases and poisoning are not as easy as industrial accidents to prove they are from workplaces, since even workers are unable to recognize that they have become ill due to chemicals at their workplaces, the official at the Migrant Worker's House said.
"Some illegal workers involved in an industrial accident were forced to leave the country right after medical treatment as a handicapped person with no money,'' the official said.
Meanwhile, three Thai women whose jobs in a South Korean liquid crystal display equipment maker factory left them paralyzed from the waist down will arrive in South Korea yesterday afternoon for medical treatment. They had returned home after they were found to be unable to work.
The poor Thai women could not afford to go to a hospital in their home country. The Labor Ministry brought them back and placed them in Ansan Choongang General Hospital, a state-funded facility for patients with industrial diseases.