A heated debate has arisen over a proposed law amendment that would allow hiring foreign housekeepers at a low price of 1 million won (approx. $840 USD) per month without applying the legal minimum wage. The employment market for domestic workers is currently limited to Koreans and Korean-Chinese compatriots, resulting in a shortage of domestic helpers, especially for young couples raising children. To address this issue, the introduction of foreign domestic workers is being seriously considered, taking cues from countries like Singapore, which has implemented a low-wage foreign domestic worker program since 1978.
On March 21, lawmaker Cho Jung-hun of the minor liberal Transition Korea party announced that he has introduced a bill to partially amend the Act on the Employment Improvement of Domestic Workers to remove the minimum wage requirement for foreign workers. This amendment would provide a legal basis for a five-year experimental period, allowing the hiring of foreign domestic workers at a low cost of 1 million won per month.
Legislator Cho Jung-hun stated, “This amendment would enable the introduction of foreign domestic helpers at a monthly cost of 1 million won by eliminating the application of the minimum wage.” He continued, “Young couples require relief from the burdens of housework and childcare. Last year, over 1.39 million women had their careers interrupted due to pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare responsibilities. We hope this amendment will ease the pressures on working couples and contribute to addressing the increasingly concerning issue of low birthrates.”
However, the proposed amendment has sparked controversy, as critics argue that it could lead to exploitation of foreign domestic workers and undermine the importance of providing a living wage. They point to research and examples from other Asian countries, where low-wage foreign domestic worker programs have sometimes resulted in abuse and poor working conditions.
A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that foreign domestic workers in Asia are often subjected to excessive working hours, low pay, and inadequate living conditions. Furthermore, the study highlights the lack of legal protection and social support available to these workers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.
The debate over this law amendment will likely continue as lawmakers weigh the potential benefits of easing the burden on young couples against the need to protect the rights and dignity of foreign domestic workers. As they consider this legislation, it is crucial to learn from the experiences of other countries and strive to create a system that ensures fair treatment and adequate compensation for all domestic workers, regardless of their nationality.