Not Migrant, Not Worker? the Mobilisation of Joseonjok Migrant Care Workers in South Korea

Monday, 16 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Yi-Chun CHIEN, University of Toronto, Canada
Yang-Sook KIM, University of Toronto, Canada
As of June 2017, there are 1.2 million registered foreign residents in South Korea, and more than half of them are Joseonjok. The Joseonjok are Chinese citizens who are ethnically Korean, living in North-eastern China near the China-North Korea border. Since China and South Korea diplomatic ties were normalised in 1992, Joseonjok has been “return migrants” with South Korean kinship lineage, “marriage migrants” who married South Koreans (mostly men), and “co-ethnic labour migrants” in the Korean labour market.

In this paper, we investigate the mobilisation strategies of Korean-Chinese (Joseonjok) co-ethnic migrant workers in South Korea. We pay special attention to the Joseonjok care workers because care and service-related work is the job category exclusive to Joseonjok migrants. Their exclusive access to the Korean care market and the special status as co-ethnic migrants have put Joseonjok care worker into an in-between status: on the one hand, migrant workers unions are reluctant to include Joseonjok care workers as they do not work in the same industries, nor do they share the same concerns as other foreign workers from Southeast Asia and the Middle East; on the other hand, local care worker organizations tend to exclude Joseonjok care workers due to their temporary migrant worker status.

With thirty-five in-depth interviews with Joseonjok care workers, local care workers, migrant worker unions and local care worker organisations, we tackle the question of why and how Joseonjok care workers are situated in the isolated vacuum of the civil society without representation to advocate for their labour and membership rights. We demonstrate that Joseonjok migrant workers’ capabilities to navigate the local labour market ironically contribute to their isolation in the Korean civil society. We argue that the broader social and political contexts have significant influences on the strategies of Joseonjok migrant care workers to mobilise for claims-making.