Tuesday, 11 February 2014

African workers hold tear-filled press conference.

African workers hold tear-filled press conference.

Workers were paid 4,000 Won for meals per day, 150 millon Won in overdue wages.  

[On the scene] Exposing the Africa Museum of Original Art owned by Saenuri Party secretary general, Hong Moon Jong.

Twelve immigrant workers from the African Musuem in Pochyeon, Gyoengi-do held a press conference in front of the Saenuri Party Headquarters in Yeoido, exposing “slave labor”. They held slogans saying “We are not animals” and demanded that “Immigrant workers should not be treated like slaves and should guaranteed humane treatment”. Furthermore, they demanded 1) Payment of overdue wages 2) Minimum wage laws be applied 3) Compensation for overtime work 4) Provision of acceptable accommodation 5) A one hour lunch break 6) Social insurance 7) Banning of racist remarks.

It was the distressful scene where the African workers at the Africa Museum of Original Art owned by Hong Moon Jong, three-time MP and chairman of the museum board, were exposing that they were “living like slaves”.

Before the press conference, they performed their dances with music played with traditional instruments, as if they were doing a sort of exorcism. People stopped in their tracks and took pictures as performers from Burkina Faso, wearing their colorful traditional costumes, played music and danced. However, some of the bystanders mocked them: “Nobody told them to come to Korea, did they? They’re the ones who came.”

“2,500 Won a day for meals … I’ve never been treated like this before”

“I’ve performed in various countries for 16 years, but this is the first time I’ve been treated like this. We ask for your help. We ask you to support us. For 2 years, we’ve been in pain and the head of the museum lied to us.”

Sanou Emmanuelle Migaelle from Burkina Faso, who has been working as a dancer at the Africa Museum of Original Art for 2 years since April 2012 said: “From the very first day in Korea, they made us do jobs that were not in the contract. My contract stated I was to perform four times a day as a professional performer, but I was forced to do clean the museum and conduct classes for children as well.” With teary eyes, he continued: “When four of my co-workers fled because of unfair treatment, the confiscated their passports.”
“With only bad quality rice and 4,000 Won a day for meals, we were deprived. The head of the museum guaranteed us a 5 year contract, but all of a sudden he told us he would terminate the contract and that we should go back to our home countries. We asked the museum if we should sign a contract with another country, but they didn’t give us a reply until our visas had expired.  Only after it had expired did they tell us they would terminate the contract. I don’t have anything to take to my parents. They lied to us and treated us unfairly. Four of my co-workers couldn’t stand it anymore and ran away.”

According to their contracts (Contract of Employment; Contrat de Travail), the museum is obliged to pay 650 USD to Zimbabwean workers and 600USD to Burkina Faso workers; nothing close to the 2013 minimum wages in Korea. Furthermore, the museum arbitrarily pegged the exchanged rate to 1000 Won per 1USD, and paid them 650,000 Won and 600,000 Won respectively. These wages are close to the minimum wages 10 years ago. They were even deducting 100,000 Won a month to pay for their plane tickets back home. The contracts have Hong Moon Jong’s official stamp on them.

“We came to Korea with a dream, but it changed into a nightmare. We couldn’t eat proper food while being paid 500,000 Won per month.”

 Chikumbirike Phainah, a sculptor from Zimbabwe, was in the same situation. He has been working at the Africa Museum of Original Art since 2009. In the beginning, he argued with the museum, saying 2,500 Won per day for meals was not enough, but the reply he got was: “In Africa, that’s enough money so just live on that money here as well. Hong Moon Jong, the chairman, has a very important position in the parliament.”

“We complained about the 2,500 Won per day payment for food. When we complained about it directly to Hong Moon Jong, he raised it to 4,000 Won. When we complained again, one of the administrators said: “It’s no use, Hong Moon Jong is a very important person in Korea.’ We complained about being treated differently from Koreans but the administrators didn’t listen. We left our families back home, but we didn’t earn anything. We want change. We want our voices to be heard.”

Ouedraogo Abdoul Razak, a musician from Burkina Faso, said: “The museum administrators basically destroyed our lives. They provided us with unbelievably substandard wages and accommodation”.

“When the head of the museum came, he said he would provide us accommodation with TV and computers. We are the most talented performers from our country. Since we are our country’s representatives, we have to be paid accordingly. In the contract, it says we will perform 3 times a day, but when I came to Korea, things were different. Music is life and a way to support my family. The clothes that were sent from my country were eaten by mice in the accommodation. They are telling us to go back home on Feb 25th, but I have no money. I don’t know what I should do if I go back. I want to be compensated for the work I have done here.”

Jang Hana  “The most terrible and embarrassing thing about this..."

Joo Bong Hee, vice-president of the Democratic Labor Union, who was with them on the day of the protest, said: “The very person who has been exploiting foreign workers is the secretary general of the ruling political party. A person who treats immigrant workers like slaves has no right to be secretary-general. He should apologize, guarantee minimum salary, and pay workers their overdue wages.”

Udaya, a Nepalese national working as head of the Emergency Committee for Immigrant Workers wthin the Democratic Labor Union, said: “People come to Korea thinking that they can make more money, but it’s catastrophic that all sorts of people, from CEOs of small and medium sized companies to the secretary general of a political party, are mistreating workers. The politicians who created the laws are the ones who don’t follow them.”

Kim Yo Han, public labor lawyer at the Seoul Headquarters of the Democratic Labor Union, explained the laws that the museum had broken. 1) Violation of minimum wage laws (paying only half of what is stipulated by law) 2) Not even paying the substandard wages and delaying their payment 3) No overtime work payment, no annual leaves, bad living conditions, no hazard insurance.

Kim notes “Even if it was one of the agents who violated the law, the owner of the business also has to bear legal and social consequences”, emphasizing Hong’s liability.

After the press conference, the immigrant workers and civil society members met with Jang Hana, an MP from the Democratic Party for an hour. Jang said “The most terrible and embarrassing thing about this whole ordeal is that the chairman of the museum is an MP like me, and a politician who has a responsibility toward society. We must resolve this matter thoroughly, so that it does not happen again.”

She promised to group: “I will fight for you, so that the person responsible for this will be punished, even if the person is high in power.”

[Original story: 10th 4:15AM]

Allegedly more than 1.5 billion Won in overdue wages that have not been paid to the African workers at the Africa Museum of Original Art, in which Hong Moon Jong, secretary general of the Saenuri Party, presides as chairman. It has been revealed that this museum, recently made more popular by featuring on TV entertainment shows, has not paid its workers, artists from Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso, legal minimum wages for several years.

Information released by the Democratic Labor Union on the 10th shows that from February 2011 to the present, the Africa Museum of Original Art has overdue wages of 157,979,710 Won. It failed to pay four Zimbabwean workers 84,378,103 Won and eight Burkina Faso workers 73,601,607 Won.

Sculptors from Zimbabwe and dancers and musicians from Burkina Faso were paid 600,000 to 700,000 Won per month – substantially lower than the legal minimum wage. According to law, these workers should have been paid 1,100,000 Won to 1,300,000 Won per month. Thus, around 400,000 to 600,000 Won per month were not paid. Compensation for unused annual leaves, were also not paid.  

The four Zimbabwe workers who worked for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, were paid 650,000 Won per month from February 2011 to September 2013, and from Oct 2013 to January 2013, they were paid 750,000 Won. According to law, their unpaid salary amounts to 470,000 Won to 610,000 Won per person. For a period of 3 years and one month, it adds up to 19,552,326 Won. The unused leaves compensation for 3 years is 1.4 million to 1.68 million Won per month.

The eight Burkina Faso workers who worked for 5 hours every weekday and 2 hours on one weekend day for 2 years and 2 months from 2012 to 2014, also did not receive 8.11 million to 9.13 million Won per person. Their unused annual leave compensation amounts to 400,000 Won per person. Additionally, the 1.91 million Won to 2.01 million Won of severance pay they were supposed to receive after their contract ended this January was not paid either.

The author of the report, Kim Yo Han, public labor lawyer at the Seoul Headquarters of the Democratic Labor Union said that: “The overdue wages were calculated based on the working hours set down on the employment contract, the minimum wage law, and the Labor Standards Act.

Democratic Labor Union: “Chairman Hong Moon Jong must take responsibility in resolving this issue”

The Africa Museum of Original Art, located in Pochyeon, Gyoengido is a famous tourist spot in the area for introducing African arts exhibitions and performances. Three time MP Hong Moon Jong bought the museum in 2010 and is currently its chairman. Park Sang Soon, professor of Musical Acting at Kyung Min University, is working as head of the museum.

The Democratic Labor Union held a press conference in front of the Saenuri Party and demanded that the overdue wages of immigrant workers must be paid as soon as possible.

“By law, the minimum wage in 2013 for 8 hours of work a day is 1,015,740 Won per month. However, the African workers had only 500,000 Won transferred their bank accounts. Hong Moon Jong, who is chairman of the museum, must take responsibility in resolving this issue. We request that Hong give us a sincere response as soon as possible."

OhmyNews tried to contact the employees of the Africa Museum of Original Art, however, they were not available for comment. A person at Hong’s MP office said: “I don’t know anything about the museum, and Mr. Hong is busy with his political activities. We will make an official statement soon.”

Original Korean Article : http://www.ohmynews.com/nws_web/view/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0001956449