Koreans Shun Chinese Laborers over Coronavirus

  • By Han Kyeong-jin, Ahn Sang-hyun

    February 05, 2020 12:50

    Korean business and services are bracing for a shortage of workers due to the coronavirus outbreak in China. Factories, construction sites, restaurants, hotels and farms in Korea have become increasingly reliant on workers from China, with 391,000 Chinese laborers accounting for 46.3 percent of all foreign workers here.

    One employment agency that supplies maids said it is getting increasing requests from customers for Korean workers. Some agencies have told maids from China who went home for the Lunar New Year holiday to take a break for the time being. But it is not easy to find Koreans to replace them.

    A support group in Ansan, south of Seoul for Chinese workers gets more and more calls from people who said they were fired simply because of their ethnicity. Most are construction workers and maids.

    Park Yong-man (65), who runs an employment agency in Daelim-dong in southern Seoul, said, "We have received a barrage of phone calls from clients asking for Koreans to replace Chinese caretakers and maids at post-natal care centers and houses. As Chinese workers refrain from leaving their homes, the number coming here to seek jobs has fallen from 50 a day to fewer than 10."

    The construction industry is also facing a shortage. As of 2018, 226,391 foreigners worked in the industry, 52.5 percent ethnic Koreans from China and 26.4 percent Chinese. That means eight out of every 10 construction workers here are from China.

    "Chinese laborers account for 30 to 50 percent of our workers on building sites," a staffer at Hyundai Engineering and Construction said. "If the crisis continues, we will face a shortage."

    Lee Kyu-yong at the Korea Labor Institute, said, "It's hard to replace ethnic Koreans from China with laborers from Southeast Asia in jobs like hospital carers and babysitters who need to be able to speak Korean. Businesses will have a tough time and pay more money to hire Koreans to replace them."

    The shortage will only worsen because the government has temporarily banned Chinese workers with H2 working visit visas from job training classes, which are needed to find a new job.

    The Human Resources Development Service of Korea temporarily halted the classes citing the risk of human-to-human transmission of the virus. The Korea Federation of SMEs said 97.1 percent of foreign workers are employed by small businesses with fewer than 300 staff, so if the crisis continues, small business will be hit particularly hard in already tough times.

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