The annual national minimum wage was 5,580 won ($4.68) per hour. A person making the minimum wage for a 40-hour workweek would earn significantly less than the minimum monthly cost of living for a family of four, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
The law requires employers to allow 30 minutes’ rest in a four-hour work period and one hour’s rest in an eight-hour work period. The law also allows a flexible system under which employees may work more than eight hours during certain days or more than 40 hours per week during certain weeks, so long as average weekly work hours for any given two-week period do not exceed 40. For employers who adopt a flexible system, amounts exceeding 40 hours constitute overtime.
Foreign companies operating in the export-processing zones are exempt from labor regulations that mandate one day of rest a week, such as weekends, also referred to as “weekly rest.”
Persons working in the financial/insurance industry, publicly invested companies, state corporations, and companies with more than five full-time employees are required to receive premium pay at a 50-percent higher rate for work in excess of 40 hours per week. The law limits overtime of ordinary workers to 12 hours a week to protect workers’ health.
The government enforced its labor laws, but the ILO’s CEACR has observed that the number of labor inspectors was insufficient, and that unannounced inspections were rare.
The government sets occupational health and safety standards and is responsible for monitoring industry adherence to these standards. Under the law workers have the right to remove themselves from situations of danger without jeopardizing their employment. These standards apply to all sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, or mining. Penalties for violations are a maximum of seven years in prison and fines up to 100 million won ($95,240). The government conducted labor inspections both proactively, according to regulations, and reactively, within a month after an accident occurred. The Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency conducted more than 195,000 inspections as of August 31. The government also conducted educational programs to prevent accidents. During the year the government also conducted inspections of establishments employing foreign, temporary entertainment workers, a vulnerable migrant population.
MOEL reported in September that 516,054 foreign workers entered the country under the Employment Permit System (EPS). A set of regulations, including the EPS, outlines legal protections for migrant (those under the EPS) and foreign (all others) workers. Permit holders may work only in certain industries and have limited job mobility, but most enjoyed the same protections under labor law as citizens. Contract workers, irregular workers, and part-time workers accounted for a substantial portion of the workforce, particularly in electronics, automotive, and services sectors.
Workers under the EPS faced multiple restrictions on employment mobility. Such workers lost their legal status if they lost their job and did not find a new employer within three months. If a migrant worker was not able to get a job within three months, authorities could cancel his/her work permit, forcing the worker to return home or remain in the country illegally. This situation was particularly difficult for seasonal workers, such as those involved in agriculture or construction. Migrant workers did not have access to lists of companies that were hiring when they wanted to change jobs, which made it more difficult for these workers to change jobs freely. Employers effectively controlled the list of job-seeking workers and had the right to contact the person they choose. Migrant laborers were required to return home after a maximum of four years and 10 months in the country but could apply to reenter after three months.
To prevent violations and improve working conditions for migrant and foreign workers, the government provided pre-employment training to newly arrived foreign workers, workplace adaptation training to those who changed workplaces, and training to employers who hired foreign workers. The government funded 39 foreign worker support centers nationwide, a call center that provided foreign workers with counseling services in 13 languages, Korean language and cultural programs, shelter, and free health-care services. MOEL continued programs previously implemented for foreign workers, including free legal advice, counseling, translation services, health checkups in their native language, and the establishment of several human rights protection centers for foreigners.
The Act on the Employment of Foreign Workers requires severance payments to migrant workers departing the country. NGOs reported, however, that many departing migrants had to leave the country to avoid overstaying their visa and never received these payments.
The 2014/15 Amnesty International report documented excessive working hours, underpayment, illegal subcontracting, and poor living conditions facing migrant workers in the agricultural sector. Some NGOs reported migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation because the law excludes regulations on working hours, holidays, and benefits for the agricultural, livestock, and fisheries industries-industries with large populations of migrant workers. Other NGOs reported foreign laborers sometimes faced physical abuse and exploitation by employers in the form of longer working hours and lower wages than their South Korean counterparts. Moreover, according to NGOs, workers also faced unexpected contract changes, such as the deduction of accommodation or meal expenses from wages. An OECD report stated that South Korean workers earn 1.55 times as much as foreign workers.
The government reported descriptions of and statistics on work-related injuries and fatalities on a quarterly basis on its websites. As of August the government inspected 196,237 workplaces for industrial health safety and health. There were 1,070 national industrial accident prevention inspectors and 320 working condition inspectors employed in 47 local offices countrywide. There were 90,909 industrial work-related accidents reported and 1,850 fatalities. In July, an explosion at the Hanhwa Chemical Company’s factory at Ulsan led to the deaths of six workers. The government did not provide information on sectors most affected.