South Korean activists protest abuse of Vietnamese fishermen: report

By Vu Minh   June 1, 2018 | 04:44 pm GMT+7

End ‘slavery contract’ they say, after two young men were allegedly assaulted and sexually harassed repeatedly.

The horrific abuse of two Vietnamese fishermen by the captain of a South Korean fishing vessel and his family have prompted activists in that country to demand strict action against the abusers and an end to the “slavery contract.”

Current employment system only allows migrant workers on boats to move to another job if the existing employer approves.

As news broke of the abuse suffered by the Vietnamese fishermen, a group of South Korean activists protested at the South Korean presidential office and the Jeju Employment and Welfare Center earlier this week, demanding that the alleged abusers are prosecuted and their fisheries licenses revoked, the Korea Times reported Friday.

The Vietnamese fishermen, said to be in their 20s, were on a fishing boat that operated near Seogwipo City on Jeju Island.

They have claimed that they were “frequently physically abused, sexually harassed and thrown into the ocean on the captain's orders over a period of nearly six months,” the paper said.

On May 29, JTBC, a South Korean cable TV network and broadcasting company, released a video showing one of the men, who came to South Korea in June last year on a working fisheries visa, struggling in the ocean not very far from the ship at night.

That video was captured last March by the other Vietnamese fisherman who had arrived in September. The Korea Times quoted this man as telling JTBC that he was sexually harassed by the captain, who “broke into his room and groped his genitals.”

The pair also alleged that the captain frequently threatened them with a knife or other harmful objects and that his family members, who were also on the vessel, also physically harassed them.

The Seogwipo Coast Guard is investigating the case further because the accounts of the captain and the two Vietnamese men do not match, Korea Times said.

On May 29, a lawyer from Advocates for Public Interest Law based in Seoul, and other activist groups, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), demanded that the South Korea government take action against violations involving migrant fishermen.

The following day, the KCTU's Jeju branch and other civic groups gathered in front of the Jeju Employment and Welfare Center.

Both demonstrations criticized the current employment system that only allows migrant fishermen to change boats when the existing employer approves, calling it a "slavery contract."

People show up at the University of Labor and Social Affairs in Hanoi in June, 2017 for a Korean language test to win a labor ticket in South Korea. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

People show up at the University of Labor and Social Affairs in Hanoi in June, 2017 for a Korean language test to win a labor ticket in South Korea. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

South Korea has emerged as one of the biggest markets for Vietnamese labor in recent years.

There are nearly 50,000 Vietnamese working in South Korea at present. Of these, 38,000 have found jobs under the Employment Permit System (EPS) program signed by the two governments.

Workers in South Korea are paid an average of $1,000-1,500 a month, up to five times what Vietnamese workers would earn at home.

 
 
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