Category: Workers’ Health and Safety

Samsung sues government over release of a report on the company’s semiconductor facilities(Hankyoreh)

Still, South Korea’s Samsung Electronics has denied withholding crucial information from workers about which chemicals they have been exposed to at its factories.

#Samsung #business_secret #occupational_disease #Bannolim

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Labor experts dismiss company’s claims that the release jeopardized its business secrets

The workers’ rights group Bannolim, which includes family members of former Samsung employees who were sickened with occupational diseases while working at the company’s semiconductor facilities, demonstrates outside the Seoul Central District Court during the first trial of Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong on Oct. 12. (by Baek So-ah, staff photographer)

Controversy continues over a report measuring the work environment at Samsung’s semiconductor factories. While South Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labor continues to maintain that releasing the report was necessary to expedite the compensation of the victims of industrial accidents, Samsung Electronics countered by suing the Ministry for releasing the report to the victims and arguing that the report includes business secrets. But several experts in the field of occupational health find Samsung’s arguments hard to believe.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires workplaces dealing with hazardous chemicals to have their work environment measured by an external organization with professional credentials at least once every six months. The resulting report covers the usage of chemicals in each industrial process, a chart showing the location where harmful chemicals were measured for each work site, the measurement of those harmful chemicals and the amount of time that workers are exposed to those harmful chemicals. The workplace in question must display the report so that workers can read it and must also submit it to the local employment and labor board.
Samsung contends that the measured location chart could be used to ascertain the arrangement and sequence of its industrial processes and that the measurement of harmful materials could be used to determine what chemicals are not used by other companies.
But experts describe Samsung’s claims as preposterous. “Since the measured location chart is basically designed to confirm at what point harmful chemicals appeared, it’s little more than vertical lines drawn in a box. The work process chart that the company provides the measuring organization does not include any secret information and only contains the general location,” Yun Chung-sik, a professor of occupational health at the Graduate School of Public Health at Seoul National University, told the Hankyoreh over the phone on Apr. 10.
“The mixture ratio of the chemicals and other matters that Samsung claims are business secrets could not be determined from the report. Samsung needs to specifically explain how the report would compromise its business secrets,” said Park Dong-uk, a professor of environmental health at Korea National Open University.
Another observation is that since the work environment is measured by an external organization selected by the company, it is impossible for business secrets to appear in the report.“There are times when a company does not even provide the measuring organization with the current status of its production equipment because it regards this as a business secret. The most important thing in the report is the amount of the chemicals, and I find myself wondering whether Samsung is reluctant to release the report because the amount written there is excessive or sloppy,” said the president of a work environment measuring organization with 25 years of experience in the field who wished to remain anonymous.
A court has already ruled that the release of a similar report was appropriate based on a “fact check” that it requested from the Korean Industrial Hygiene Association. In February, the bereaved family members of a victim of an industrial accident filed a lawsuit in February demanding that the Cheonan branch of the Daejeon local employment and labor board release the work environment measurement report for Samsung Electronics’ Onyang factory. In this lawsuit, the Daejeon High Court dismissed concerns that releasing the measured location chart would significantly harm Samsung Electronics’ legitimate profits by leaking technical information about the company’s production methods or by allowing information about the company’s production ability to be exploited by its partners or competitors.
By Park Tae-woo, staff reporter

South Korean companies’ treatment of workforce in ASEAN countries raising concerns (Hankyoreh)

“In ASEAN countries, South Korean companies disregard health and safety regulations and churn out unstable jobs on short contracts or through illegal temp agencies. When workers take collective action or attempt to set up a union, these companies threaten them with termination or with various criminal charges,”

#SouthKoreanCompanies #labor_oppression #labor_right #노동탄압도_수출품목

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Labor groups want the Moon administration to consider workers rights as part of the New Southern Policy

After South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared that he would create a close trading and investment relationship with the countries of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) through his New Southern Policy, concerns are being raised about South Korean companies violating workers’ rights in ASEAN countries.

On Mar. 29, South Korea’s two national trade unions (the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and Federation of Korean Trade Unions), the South Korean offices of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation held a press conference at the Francisco Building in downtown Seoul to call on the Moon administration to consider human rights issues in its New Southern Policy and to institute laws and policies that ensure that South Korean companies moving into ASEAN countries guarantee human rights and labor rights.
According to the information made public during the press conference, a large number of ASEAN workers who are working for South Korean companies face long working hours, late pay and unfair termination, but these companies’ unscrupulous labor practices make it difficult to organize a union. “In ASEAN countries, South Korean companies disregard health and safety regulations and churn out unstable jobs on short contracts or through illegal temp agencies. When workers take collective action or attempt to set up a union, these companies threaten them with termination or with various criminal charges,” said Monina Wong, who handles basic labor rights for the ITUC.
According to the groups at the press conference, South Korean companies that notice any signs of a union being established try to “nip it in the bud.” “Early this year, South Korean clothing company Gawon Apparel had not paid wages or given the union the money withheld from workers’ wages as dues for two months. When the workers went on strike because of this, all 588 of them were let go,” said Pret So Uot, an attorney with the Cambodian Labour Confederation. Similarly, when workers for a South Korean sock company with a factory in Myanmar asked the company to negotiate about guaranteeing their labor rights last March, all 76 of them were fired.
Among various South Korean companies, Samsung Electronics is notorious for sticking to its “no union” policy in ASEAN countries. “When 13 employees attempted to set up a labor union at a Samsung Electronics television factory in Indonesia in 2012, the company immediately fired all of them and even sent people to their houses to intimidate them. And later when workers at a Samsung subcontractor tried to organize a union, the Samsung headquarters in South Korea notified all the company’s subcontractors in Indonesia that they would lose their contracts if they created unions,” said Prihanani Boenadi, vice president of the International Department for the Confederation of Indonesian Workers’ Unions.
Workers rights’ violations increase in tandem with South Korean investment
These examples of workers’ rights violations appear to be increasing as South Korea steps up investment in ASEAN countries. “South Korea has an overwhelming lead among when it comes to the number of strikes that have occurred over the past five years at foreign companies operating in Vietnam,” said Kim Tituha, who is in charge of labor rights at the Center for Development and Integration, a non-profit organization in Vietnam.
Others point out that South Korean companies exploit the fact that the rule of law is not functioning properly and that basic labor rights are not adequately guaranteed in ASEAN countries. “Even when Myanmar’s labor board and arbitration committee ruled that a firing was unfair and order the company in question to reinstate the workers, it’s useless. The company can get off the hook by paying a fine of about US$700,” said Khaing Zar Aung, assistant general secretary for the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar. The conclusion reached by ASEAN labor activists is that ASEAN countries are reluctant to impose legal sanctions on scofflaw South Korean companies because those countries need South Korean investment.
The only place to which ASEAN residents working for South Korean companies can turn is the OECD National Contact Point (NCP). The NCPs, which have been set up in various countries according to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are supposed to deal with conflicts involving multinational enterprises by making recommendations and mediating and arbitrating complaints. The OECD enacted the NCPs in 1976 to prevent multinational enterprises from committing human rights violations. Since the South Korean NCP was established in 2000, however, only 31 cases have been officially referred to it, and not one of those has been resolved.
“Procedural transparency needs to be enhanced by adding members of labor unions and civic groups to the committee of South Korea’s NCP, which is under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy,” advised Joanna Coronacion, an activist for SENTRO.
While companies operating overseas cannot be sanctioned under South Korean law, this does not mean that nothing can be done. “We need to set up a national action plan for companies and human rights as the UN has already recommended. Institutional changes also need to be made to cut off various kinds of support – including national pension, loans and subsidies – for companies that are implicated in harming the environment or committing human rights violations,” said Jung Shin-yeong, a lawyer with Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL).
By Lee Ji-hye, staff reporter

Humiliated’ nurses forced to perform erotic dance for top officials by South Korea hospital (International Business times)

The issue of the working condition of Korean health workers, especially the nurses, continues to be revealed. Following last month’s unveiling of nurses who were illegally paid wages below the minimum wage in their early employment, some hospitals have recently been found to be treating their workers insultingly. The suffering of nurses’ working condition in Korea seems to be arising from Korea’s harsh labor culture, the authoritarian hierarchy of the medical organization and widespread sexualization of women.

#health_worker #nurses #working_condition #stop_sexualize #Korea

  • South Korean nurses allegedly forced to dance in front of high-ranking officials.

  • Korean Nurses Association calls for investigation into Sacred Heart Hospital of Hallym University.

south Korea nurses
Nurses complained of feeling ‘humiliated’ after performing onstage Screengrab/YTN


A South Korean hospital is under investigation for allegedly making its nurses perform a “seductive” dance in front of high-ranking officials at a formal event.

Video footage emerged showing groups of woman in skimpy outfits on stage, sparking outrage after it was widely shared online.

Nurses at the Sacred Heart Hospital of Hallym University claim they were forced to take part in the erotic dance in front of more than 1,000 co-workers and hospital officials during an annual sports competition in October.

The footage was uploaded by a whistleblower onto Facebook, who also suggested it is not the first time this has happened.

According to Korea Times, the nurse wrote: “Those forced to dance are usually the newly hired nurses, who are unable to refuse such orders. We are forced to dance in front of high-ranking officials of the firm who sit side-by-side at a long table.

Other nurses have also come forward on social media to claim they were encouraged to make sexually suggestive faces while performing the dance.

“During practice, managers at the Nursing Department would give instructions on making seductive gestures and facial expressions,” one nurse wrote.

Another added: “Some nurses even cried to express their extreme humiliation, but officials would always brush this off, saying they are making a big deal out of something everyone does.

“It is devastating to hear the hospital officials claimed they did not know about the situation after this finally got out.”

South Korea nurses
Footage of the South Korea nurses dancing was uploaded to Facebook Screengrab YTN

The Korean Nurses Association has called for an investigation into what the allegations surrounding Hallym University’s Sacred Heart Hospital.

It said in a statement: “This is a grave challenge to the vocation and self-esteem of nurses.

“There are numerous nurses who endure an intense workload, low paycheck and frequent overtime with their sense of duty and vocation. Considering this, the scandal was defamatory and offensive to these nurses.”

The Ministry of Employment and Labor confirmed an inquiry in under way.

A spokesperson told the Korea Times: “If we find legal problems, we will summon the hospital officials responsible.”

Seventy percent of part-time workers complain of work-related illnesses (Koreaherald)

#exhaution #work_related_illness #Albamon #Korea

“… a jobs portal, polled 2,054 part-time employees from Nov. 1-3 and found that 72 percent had complaints about various physical conditions due to their work. ”


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Seven out of 10 part-time workers said they are suffering from job-related illnesses, mostly chronic exhaustion, in a survey released Monday.

Albamon, a jobs portal, polled 2,054 part-time employees from Nov. 1-3 and found that 72 percent had complaints about various physical conditions due to their work. Health problems were reported by 74.5 percent of those employed in the services industry, followed by 72.3 percent in sales, 69.9 percent in production and physical labor, and 61.6 percent in administrative work, IT and design.


Chronic exhaustion was cited by 58.2 percent of those polled, where multiple answers were allowed. Another 48.5 percent complained of swollen legs from having to work standing up all day.

Thirty-nine percent said they had symptoms of arthritis or muscle pain, 28.1 percent said they had indigestion, and 26.6 percent had pains in the wrists or shoulders. Another 15.2 percent complained of migraine headaches and 13.4 percent had trouble sleeping. (Yonhap)

Semiconductor workers’ seek acknowledgement of industrial accident status

#Banollim #Industrial_Accident #Samsung #worker’s_health

“In August, the Supreme Court sided with the plaintiff in a case filed by a former Samsung Electronics worker demanding industrial accident acknowledgment for their multiple sclerosis. Citing the principle of “relieving the burden of proof,” the court overturned an earlier court decision to dismiss the case on the grounds that the correlation between the worker’s duties and the illness was inadequately proven.”

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The semiconductor worker health and human rights watchdog group Banollim holds a press conference on Oct. 31 at the southern Seoul branch of the Korea Workers‘ Compensation and Welfare Service (K-Comwel) to urge the agency to “quickly acknowledge industrial accident status for workers suffering occupational diseases in the electronics industry.” (provided by Banollim)

Employees in the industry became sick with a variety of illness including leukemia and multiple sclerosis

Seven people who contracted leukemia, lymphoma, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions during or after working for South Korean semiconductor manufacturers, including Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, applied for acknowledgment of industrial accident status on Oct. 31.

The semiconductor worker health and human rights watchdog group Banollim held a press conference the same day at the southern Seoul branch of the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (K-Comwel) to urge the agency to “quickly acknowledge industrial accident status for workers suffering occupational diseases in the electronics industry.”

Banollim’s request for acknowledgment was the 13th since the group began filing collective requests for leukemia cases at Samsung Electronics employees in Apr. 2008. As of Oct. 31, the group had applied for collective industrial accident acknowledgment for 94 people, but only 22 received it. Of the 393 semiconductor-related occupational disease sufferers reported to Banollim over the past ten years, 144 have already passed away.

In the past, K-Comwel has been reluctant to grant industrial accident acknowledgment, citing a lack of evidence of exposure to carcinogens or clear medical causes for the conditions – effectively placing the burden of proof on the victims. In contrast, Banollim has demanded that industrial accident acknowledgment standards be immediately revised in line with a recent Supreme Court decision, and insisted that acknowledgment be granted in cases of repeated instances of occupational diseases without a long investigation and review process.

In August, the Supreme Court sided with the plaintiff in a case filed by a former Samsung Electronics worker demanding industrial accident acknowledgment for their multiple sclerosis. Citing the principle of “relieving the burden of proof,” the court overturned an earlier court decision to dismiss the case on the grounds that the correlation between the worker’s duties and the illness was inadequately proven. Attention is now turning to the administration as it weighs a changing in policy amid recent court decisions taking a more stance on industrial accident acknowledgment.


By Cho Il-jun, staff reporter

Corruption in the Recruitment Process of Public Institutions While Actual Unemployment Rate Experienced by the Young Peaks (Kyunghyang editorial)

#empoyment #corruption  #SDH #Korea

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The employment rate of people in their twenties continues to fall for the sixth month since April. During that same period, there was no other age group that recorded a negative employment rate. While the employment rate of young people dropped, the unemployment rate in the same age group continued to climb to rates of 9-10%.

According to the September employment trend released by Statistics Korea on October 18, the unemployment rate of young people aged 15-29 dropped 0.2% from a year ago to 9.2%. When we look at the people just in their twenties, the rate is 9.4%. After the unemployment rate of the people in their twenties recorded 8.5% in January this year, it has remained in the 9% level for eight months. When we include the number of people who have given up looking for employment and who are preparing to enter the job market, the actual unemployment rate experienced by the young people climbs to 21.5%, a 0.2% increase from the same period last year. This is the highest level for September since 2015 when related statistics were collected. We are witnessing a situation in which one in every five young people continue to remain unemployed. The situation is the same with the employment rate. The employment rate dropped 0.8% from 58.7% last year to 57.9%. Among the people in their twenties, job-seekers, who are classified as “on a break,” also increased by 31,000 (13.1%) from a year ago.

The decline in youth employment and the increase in the actual unemployment rate experienced by the young people is depressing news indeed for the people preparing to enter the job market, already disappointed at a series of corruption cases in the recruitment of employees by public and financial institutions. In a parliamentary inspection a few days ago, Justice Party lawmaker Sim Sang-jeung raised allegations of corruption in the recruitment of employees at Woori Bank. According to a document titled, “Recommendations for the Public Recruitment of New Employees in 2016,” which Sim released, Woori Bank allegedly recruited sixteen children and relatives of senior officials at the National Intelligence Service and the Financial Supervisory Service and of VIP customers when hiring new workers last year. The document included the personal information of the people who were suspected of having made the solicitation under the column for “relevant information,” as well as the personal information of the applicants, such as name, age, gender, and educational background. The name and position of the Woori Bank executive was written under the column “referrer” and in the case of the children of VIP customers, the bank account details of the applicant was included in the “remarks” section. If this allegation is true, it is indeed shocking. The moral hazard of the executives and employees at the Financial Supervisory Service is serious, as allegations of job solicitations have emerged following problems with large loans and corruption in employee recruitment.

Words cannot express the shock that the people seeking employment must have felt after corruption in the recruitment process at Kangwon Land and the Financial Supervisory Service was exposed, ahead of Woori Bank. Irregularities in the recruitment process at public and financial institutions shatter the principle of equal opportunity and are crimes that discourage the people seeking employment. The government should thoroughly investigate the latest corruption case and strictly punish those responsible. In addition, the government needs to make every effort to provide a policy that can promote the employment of young people.


Complaints soar after release of info on sanitary pads

#women_health #chemical #safety #menstrual_care_product

Chemical safety problem around various products issued in Korea, starting from humidifier sterilizer, sanitary pads, pesticide-containing egg, etc. Is this just society being chemical-phobic and untrustful or is it because exposure to unregulated toxic chemicals included in everyday supplies rightfuly being exposed?



Complaints about unexpected side effects from using sanitary pads have spiked since mid-August when information regarding the materials used in these products were released, according to the Food and Drug Safety Ministry on Wednesday.

Since Aug. 21, a total of 74 complaints have been lodged with the Korea Institute of Drug Safety and Risk Management concerning the use of menstrual care products. There were no complaints regarding menstrual care products reported before Aug. 20.

The complaints mostly focused on the use of Lilian pads, which were named as one of the brands of products containing toxins. Side effects that were reported included changes in menstrual cycles and volume.

Sanitary pads at a discount retailer in Seoul (Yonhap)

The complaints were sent by the Food and Drug Safety Ministry to a committee on sanitary pad safety, made up of independent experts for further study. The committee will be responsible for leading tests on existing products in the market and creating new sets of standards for specific toxins that are found in sanitary products.

Meanwhile, a local women’s rights group announced last month that it had collected complaints from over 3,000 women over three days last month after the safety study was made public.

Additional information released by the Food and Drug Safety Ministry showed that all of the top brands of sanitary pads being sold in Korea contained toxic chemicals.

These types of chemicals have not yet been scientifically linked to health risks for women, but the news has led to more consumers turning to organic cotton products or buying menstrual cups directly from overseas sellers.

Sales of cotton pads in the two weeks following initial news reports about Lilian pads rose 385 percent on-year at discount retailer E-mart. Sales of menstrual cups to Korean consumers from health products website Vitatra rose 470 percent compared to the previous week, in the week following the reports. Menstrual cups have not yet been certified for sale in Korea.

“This case demonstrates how crucial it is for consumers to have the right information,” said Park Myung-hee, who heads the consumer rights group Korea Consumer’s Network.

“Women could not come forward before because they did not know that it was possible that these products contained toxins, but that did not mean there was no risk. Rather than taking action only on products that create public outcry, safety agencies need to make more of an effort to identify risks ahead of time and engage with the public.”

By Won Ho-jung (

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Government preparing bill to prevent serious industrial accidents (Kyunghyang)

In the Case of a Fatal Industrial Accident, the Main Contractor Will Also Be Subject to Up to 7 Years in Prison and 100 Mn Won in Fines

#industrial_hazard #bill_responding_to_”outsourcing_of_danger” #should_watch_over #FINALLY

In the future, when a major industrial accident occurs due to a failure to follow safety measures, the main contractor, as well as the subcontractor, will be subject to a maximum of 7 years in prison or a fine of up to 100 million won. A new bill will also have the main contractor, which caused the serious industrial accident, receive disadvantages when bidding for construction contracts, and protect emotional laborers such as the employees working at call centers from industrial accidents.

On August 17, the government accepted the “Measures to Prevent Serious Industrial Accidents” including these details at a meeting to review and adjust current state tasks chaired by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon. Major industrial accidents were defined as work sites where a fatal accident occurred or accidents where two or more people suffered injuries requiring more than three months of treatment and where more than ten people were simultaneously injured. The Ministry of Employment and Labor will draw up amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act to include these details and submit the bill to the National Assembly next March. The government plans to enforce the revised bill in the second half of next year.

The main contractor’s responsibility and punishment for industrial accidents will be strengthened to prevent the “outsourcing” of danger. In the past, the main contractor was subject to up to a year in prison or a fine of less than 10 million won for not adhering to safety measures when a major industrial accident occurred, but punishment will be strengthened, and the main contractor will now be subject to the same punishment as the subcontractors. Until now the main contractor was only responsible for the operations carried out in sites designated as “dangerous,” but now the contractors will be responsible for industrial accidents that occur in all sites. The latest government measure will have the main contractor personally handle operations that deal with particularly high levels of toxicity or danger, such as refining mercury, handling of heavy metals, and plating. As for tower cranes and railway sites, where a series of major accidents had occurred recently, the government plans to draw up guidelines to strengthen inspection standards and to adjust train hours during operations.
The government will also draw up a bill to protect workers engaging in emotional labor, such as the staff at call centers, from industrial hazards. In addition, the government will also make it mandatory for businesses to provide protective gear and safety education for workers in special forms, such as the workers in motorcycle parcel delivery or food delivery. Businesses that fail to follow such regulations will be punished with up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 50 million won.

Minister of Employment and Labor Kim Young-joo said, “We will soon establish a task force on innovative safety policies with labor and management and provide specific measures to prevent industrial hazards.”

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The Continuing Death of Migrant Workers Requires Human Rights Measures (Kyunghyang)

“There are a million migrant workers in Korea, but the continuing human rights violations and labor exploitation is an international disgrace and a shameful portrait of South Korean society. ”


#migrant_workers #labor_exploitation #human_right_violation #discrimination #pig_farm_worker’s_death

After a series of deaths of migrant workers who worked cleaning the septic tank of a rural pig farm, people are raising their voices calling for the government to protect the rights of laborers and prevent industrial accidents. Labor and social NGOs such as the Migrants’ Trade Union held a press conference in front of the government office in Seoul on June 4 and announced, “Every year, an average of 2.8 migrant workers died after suffocating in the septic tanks, but this year, four have already died.” There are a million migrant workers in Korea, but the continuing human rights violations and labor exploitation is an international disgrace and a shameful portrait of South Korean society.

The reliance on foreign labor in South Korea’s agricultural and livestock sector as well as the so-called “3D” manufacturing industry concerning dirty, difficult and dangerous tasks is growing. Nevertheless, the migrant workers working in the agricultural and livestock sector continue to suffer human rights violations, such as physical and verbal abuse, and they are forced to endure harsh working conditions. The death of four migrant workers at a pig farm last month is also connected to such background. On May 12, two Nepalese workers suffocated and died while cleaning a septic tank at a pig farm in Gunwi, Gyeongsangbuk-do. The suction machine for the excrements broke down and the workers manually cleaned the tank without any safety equipment such as masks, eventually dying from the toxic gas. Also on May 27, a Chinese worker in his sixties and a Thai worker in his thirties also lost consciousness while cleaning the excrements at a pig farm in Buknae-myeon, Yeoju-si, Gyeonggi-do. They were moved to a hospital, but later died.

Migrant workers working in the rural areas are “excluded” from provisions pertaining to working hours and holidays according to Article 63 of the Labor Standards Act. They cannot properly receive overdue wages as well as leaves and overtime pay. This is why people are calling migrant workers the modern-day serf, and joke that their workdays are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Friday, and Friday. In particular, the Act on the Employment, Etc. of Foreign Workers (Employment Permit System) restricts the migrant workers’ freedom of occupation, because it limits the number of times and the time to change work places. In particular, workers who entered the country with a work visa in the agriculture and livestock sector are banned from finding employment in the manufacturing and service industries, which have relatively more jobs.

The government should immediately revise legislation that work against labor and human rights, such as the Employment Permit System, and concentrate on protecting the basic rights and labor rights of the migrant workers. Otherwise, South Korea will not be able to escape from the stigma as a “labor hell” and as “a country that exploits labor,” instead of gaining the reputation as a “land of opportunity.”

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Court with first recognition of multiple sclerosis caused at Samsung factory (hankyoreh)

#work_related_disease #Samsung #semi-conductor_plant #multiple_sclerosis #Banollim


“Considering that Kim acquired the disease earlier than the average age of incidence (38.3 years) and that four people have come down with the disease on the job at Samsung Electronics, the work environment probably triggered the disease or at least caused it to develop faster than normal,”


Samsung’s semiconductor factory in Giheung, Gyeonggi Province

Former semiconductor worker likely had rare disease caused by exposure to solvents at factory

A South Korean court has recognized a former worker at Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor factory who is suffering from the rare disease of multiple sclerosis as having a work-related condition, the first time that multiple sclerosis has been recognized as a work-related condition on the semiconductor production line at Samsung Electronics.

“Even in the case of rare diseases whose causes have not been completely determined, when the elements mentioned in current medical research as causing or aggravating the disease are present in the work environment or in the work process, the disease should be recognized as being work-related,” the court said.On May 28, Hon. Kim Yong-seok, presiding judge in the second administrative division of the Seoul High Court, overruled the lower court and sided with the plaintiff, Kim So-jeong (33, not her real name), who contracted multiple sclerosis after working for two years at Samsung’s semiconductor factory in Giheung, Gyeonggi Province. Kim had asked the court to force the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (KCOMWEL) to reverse its decision not to cover Kim’s medical expenses.

Kim got a job at Samsung straight out of high school in 2003 but quit after just two years. That was when she started experiencing symptoms such as weight loss, irregular urination, loss of vision, facial paralysis and reduced sensation, and three years after leaving Samsung, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She asked KCOMWEL to cover the cost of her treatment, but the agency refused her request, leading her to file a lawsuit in 2013.

Multiple sclerosis is an extremely rare disease, only occurring in 3.5 out of 100,000 people (and 1.4 out of 100,000 people in their twenties) in South Korea, and the exact cause of the disease has not been determined. For these reasons, KCOMWEL argued, it is not a work-related disease.But the court concluded that Kim’s multiple sclerosis was work-related because three of the factors thought to cause the disease applied to Kim: inadequate exposure to sunlight, exposure to organic solvents and heavy metals, and working in shifts.

“Considering that Kim acquired the disease earlier than the average age of incidence (38.3 years) and that four people have come down with the disease on the job at Samsung Electronics, the work environment probably triggered the disease or at least caused it to develop faster than normal,” the court said.In connection with exposure to organic solvents, the court also quoted the results of a 2013 assessment of health and safety at the Giheung plant by the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA), which found that the plant did not have any equipment to blow harmful gases outside the building and that not enough was being done to prevent workers from being exposed to high concentrations of harmful materials in a short period of time. “Considering that Samsung Electronics did not submit the documents that were necessary for assessing its system for managing the exposure to harmful materials on the grounds that this was a business secret, there seem to have been more problems than the ones that were identified,” the court said, a remark that implicitly criticizes Samsung Electronics’ reluctance to submit the documents in question.“The Korea Workers‘ Compensation and Welfare Service must not prolong the suffering of the victim by unfairly appealing this decision,” said Banollim, a watchdog group advocating the health of semiconductor plant workers, in a statement released on May 28. Banollim represented Kim in the case.


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