Category: Workers’ Health and Safety

[Issue Paper] Changing Political Economy of Pharmaceutical Production in Post-COVID-19 era and Civil Society Movement Strategy in South Korea

Alliance for a Better Pharmaceutical Production Regime (ABPPR) was launched by Korean Pharmacists for Democratic Society (KPDS), People’s Solidarity for Social Progress (PSSP), Health Right Network (HRN), People’s Health Institute (PHI), and IPLeft on April 10, 2018. The purpose was to diagnose changes in the political economy surrounding the pharmaceutical industry and government regulations after the “Access to Glivec, Sprycel, and Fuzeon movement” and “Anti-KORUS FTA movement” in the 2000s, and lay the knowledge base for social movements to secure access to and ‘publicness’ of medicines.

This issue paper contains an analysis of history and structure, power and interests, and ideology that can interpret and explain problems from the perspective of a changing political economy of pharmaceutical production since the 2000s and after COVID-19. Not only the ‘changing’ context like financialization and biomedicalization but also ‘classical’ contexts such as strengthening monopolization through intellectual property rights and privatization of public resources are still valid. Although it is not perfect, it contains concerns about the movement strategy of Korean civil society as of June 2022. We ask readers to join us in this concern and discussion.

We express our deep gratitude to our comrade Hee-seob Nam, who passed away on May 10, 2021. He was always there to fight for access to medicines for 20 years, from the access to Glivec and Fuzeon movement and anti-KORUS FTA movement, to access to COVID-19 technologies movement. He also shared a lot of inspiration and insights globally across the border. May he rest in peace.

< Abstract >

1. COVID-19 pandemic, (re)examination of access to medicines, and R&D, production, and supply regimes

  • COVID-19 pandemic provided a venue for ‘joint learning’ worldwide about access to medicines and the importance of R&D, production, and supply systems. Competition to secure treatments and vaccines, described as a “war” between countries, arose due to the lack or failure of a fair distribution mechanism based on need amid limited production and supply worldwide. Two major factors played a role in the limitation of production and supply. One was the monopoly of technology and knowledge through intellectual property rights, and the other was the insufficient and unequal use of global production capacities. The loser of the “war” was bound to be low- and middle-income countries that lacked purchasing power and technology.
  • There was also an alternative effort. These include the “COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP)” to jointly manage technologies and knowledge related to COVID-19, the “Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A)” to cooperate worldwide from R&D and production to purchase and distribution of COVID-19 technologies, and its vaccine pillar, COVAX. However, the planned goals were not realized in the end. There was no ‘voluntary’ technology sharing by companies with intellectual property rights, and amid limited production and supply, only low- and middle-income countries that could not afford to purchase vaccines were left in extreme inequality while high-income countries hoarded vaccines. These were the contexts in which the governments of India and South Africa proposed a temporary waiver of certain provisions of TRIPs on COVID-19 technology at the WTO level. However, the decision passed at the 12th WTO Ministerial Council in a year and eight months was so retrograde that it could no longer be called a waiver.
  • Korean civil society has joined forces with global civil society to support the ‘TRIPs waiver.’ The Korean government has consistently maintained its opposition while pushing for Korea’s initiative to become a “global vaccine hub.” Public attention to the TRIPs waiver has faded, and the movement’s momentum has also been reduced. However, as high-income countries, including Korea, began to vaccinate “booster shots,” vaccine inequality has worsened again, and inequality is being reenacted in oral therapeutics.

2. Political economy of pharmaceutical production: Global context and Korean position

  • In the late 1980s, in the era of neoliberal financial globalization, mergers and acquisitions between pharmaceutical companies increased significantly, and patent rights were strengthened worldwide. Meanwhile, bio-venture companies emerged through the stock market, transforming the pharmaceutical production ecosystem with transnational pharmaceutical companies that have become huge through mergers and acquisitions. The result was a rise in drug prices due to the strengthened market dominance of pharmaceutical companies and a shift of drug development costs to society.
  • With COVID-19, the government’s role in drug production has been greatly strengthened, and ‘publicness’ issues in drug development and production have begun to draw much attention. However, this government-led drug development model had many limitations, such that the knowledge and technology produced by public funds were not widely shared and spread and especially underdeveloped countries could not even try this model.
  • Meanwhile, in Korea, under the influence of neoliberal financial globalization, the “knowledge-based economy” model began during the Kim Dae Jung government and was succeeded by the Moon Jae In government’s “innovative growth” policy. The innovative growth policy involves easing industrial and financial regulations to foster venture capital. However, unlike the U.S., Korea, which does not have original innovative technology, does not achieve the goal of developing innovative drugs and economic growth and only creates side effects of forming a bubble in the KOSDAQ market and releasing drugs that lack safety and effectiveness.

3. The Korean government’s policy to foster bio and pharmaceutical industries

  • The Korean government expanded financial support to foster the bio and pharmaceutical industries in each administration, and also promoted deregulation policies that lower drug approval standards, for industrial purposes. These deregulation measures led to indiscriminate drug approvals, and the use of unverified drugs threatened safety for many people. Despite repeated poor approvals, the government has continued to push for industrial development policies rather than efforts to improve them and is stepping up support and deregulation with the opportunity of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the global community is paying attention to Korea in the wake of COVID-19, not because of bio-new drugs, but because of its ability to produce biosimilars and vaccines.
  • In the COVID-19 situation, the monopoly problem of bio-new drugs such as vaccines was strongly exerted despite the public health crisis. In the end, low- and middle-income countries had a lot of difficulties accessing them. The latest biopharmaceuticals require complex production processes and advanced production facilities completely different from conventional chemical drugs or traditional vaccines. In addition, third-phase clinical trials are required to confirm the equivalence of generic drugs (biosimilars) due to their complex shape and structure and vulnerability to external environments. As such, barriers to biosimilar production, which are different from conventional generics (of chemical drugs), are giving many countries additional difficulties in using biopharmaceuticals, in addition to the monopoly based on the intellectual property rights of new drugs. For this reason, several countries are starting discussions to solve the high entry barriers to biosimilar production.
  • Korea has the world’s second-largest bio-production facility and has been entrusted by AstraZeneca, Novavax, Sputnik, and Moderna to produce their COVID-19 vaccines. In addition, Korea is becoming a major producer of biosimilars as four of the top 10 biosimilar sales in 2020 are from domestic companies. While the Korean government is implementing policies to foster bio and pharmaceutical industries to ‘catch up’ major high-income countries and transnational pharmaceutical companies, the global community expects the Korean government and companies to provide affordable biopharmaceuticals to all countries. Considering that the government’s biosimilar policy for industrial development has not led to a reduction in domestic drug expenditure, let alone ensuring affordability of low- and middle-income countries, watching and checking the government and companies to meet their changed status and expectations has become a new task for Korean civil society.

4. The ‘access to medicines’ movement for high-priced medicines: Global context and Korean position

  • Korean patients had difficulty using the leukemia drug Glivec in 2001 because of the high price and the pharmaceutical company’s refusal of supply to stick to the high price of the drug. However, health and medical CSOs joined the patient movement to launch an access movement which later led to the access to Sprycel and Fuzeon movement in 2007. These movements went beyond the expansion of the health insurance coverage of the drugs, argued for the necessity of patient participation in the decision-making process of drug development, production, and supply, and criticized the intellectual property system strengthened with the launch of the WTO.
    The issue of access to expensive new drugs such as Glivec was not limited to Korea. This was because transnational pharmaceutical companies pursued a profit maximization strategy that set the maximum price of the drug in the United States and Europe and then forced the price on other countries.
  • In the early 2000s, discussions from the perspective of ‘access to medicines is a human right’ began at the United Nations. Activists worldwide have considered drug production and supply at the global level, witnessing, on the one hand, the Brazilian public laboratories and Indian generic pharmaceutical companies proving the feasibility of access to affordable medicines, and on the other hand, India introducing material patents due to the implementation of TRIPs with revision of their patent law in 2005. The access to the Glivec movement, which started in Korea and passed through Thailand to India, and the global pandemic of infectious diseases such as Swine Flu and COVID-19, as well as the call for compulsory licensing and TRIPs waiver for access to therapeutics and vaccines, showed that a global strategy is needed.
  • Korea has an important status in this global solidarity movement. This is because the access issues were revealed ahead of developing countries, and compulsory licensing in countries such as Korea, which is well equipped with drug production facilities, can have a greater impact.

5. Challenges of Korean civil society movements for ‘publicness of pharmaceutical production’ beyond ‘access to medicines’ in the post-COVID-19 era

  • Guerbet’s refusal to supply liver cancer contrast agent Lipiodol in 2018 and Gore’s supply suspension of artificial blood vessels for pediatric heart surgery in 2019 suggested that the monopolistic pharmaceutical company’s ‘refusal to supply drugs’ strategy is still valid, and that there are a variety of pharma monopolies even if not patent rights; but that the structure and mechanism of the problem are the same – the monopolistic production and supply by for-profit pharma.
  • After the “Access to Glivec, Sprycel, and Fuzeon movement” and “Anti-KORUS FTA movement” in the 2000s, Korean society has rapidly become neo-liberalized through compressive growth under compressive globalization. And now, in the era of ‘shareholderization of the entire nation,’ the ‘intellectual property rights dogmatism,’ in which the majority of the public, with the identity of ‘shareholders’ of bio-pharmaceutical companies, supports intellectual property rights, is now dominating the entire society. For Korean civil society, the space of the popular movement has been reduced more than ever.
  • It may sound paradoxical, hope can be found in that the access issues surrounding ultra-high-priced new bio drugs or ‘orphanization’ of ‘old drugs’ can be found in other high-income countries such as Europe and the United States. The fact that the public anger over the tyranny of monopolistic pharmaceutical companies and the political community’s awareness of the ‘system failure’ is higher than ever globally could be an opportunity for change.
  • The Korean civil society believes that the ‘access to medicines’ movement is still valid even in the post-COVID-19 era, and believes that the ‘publicness of global pharmaceutical production’ should be asserted beyond the ‘access to medicines for Koreans.’ The civil society movement should raise such tasks socially and lead public discourse beyond the limitations of perspectives of patients or nation-states. Even considering the social determinants of health and the socioeconomic nature of medicines, the people’s movement for ‘publicness’ of pharmaceutical production has been and should continue to be associated with various social movements, including human rights movements, patient movements, and access to knowledge movements.

포스트 코로나 시대_의약품 생산의 변화된 정치경제와 시민사회 운동 전략 모색_표지

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‘I could be next’: irregular workers say after young mechanic’s death(The Korea Times)

#Taean_power_plant_tragedy #privatization #outsourcing_of_risk #subcontraction_worker_safety #South_Korea

“Away with irregular employment! away with deadly outsourcing operations!”

Original Article from: The Korea Times

Protesters march near Gwanghwamun Station in central Seoul, Saturday, toward Cheong Wa Dae with a life-size statue of the deceased power plant worker Kim Yong-gyun holding up a sign that says “No more irregular employment.” / Yonhap

Thousands of workers and citizens rallied near Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, Saturday, demanding an end to precarious labor conditions faced by irregular workers, usually hired by subcontractors to do work outsourced by big firms.

The rally was part of a collective mourning over the death of power plant worker Kim Yong-gyun, 24. On Dec. 11, Kim’s body was found wedged into a conveyer belt used to transport coal at the Taean Thermal Power Plant operated by state-run Korea Western Power (KOWEPO) in South Chungcheong Province.

The protesters marched toward Cheong Wa Dae, shouting “Away with irregular employment, away with deadly outsourcing operations.”

Kim’s tragedy has become synonymous with the plight of 6.6 million irregular workers — around a third of the country’s total workforce. Protesters tied black ribbons reading “I, too, am Kim Yong-gyun” by the roadside.

“I do the same work as train station officers who are directly hired Korail, but only I am subject to the minimum wage, long working hours and the worst conditions,” Hwang Ji-min, an irregular worker hired under a Korail subcontractor, said at the rally. “Kim’s death reminded me of the death of an overworked irregular station officer who died of a stroke while guarding the station alone in September. It also made me think I could be next.”

Kim Mi-sook, mother of the young deceased worker Kim Yong-gyun, is comforted by a rally participant in front of Seoul Finance Center in central Seoul, Saturday. / Yonhap

Since the neoliberal restructuring following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, labor outsourcing has become a common practice at Korean firms. Instead of hiring workers directly on permanent payrolls and offering benefits as stated by law, firms employ subcontractors to hire low-cost irregular workers.

Subcontractors, which must bid the lowest price to win contracts, often do not hire enough workers to carry out the required tasks safely. Thus, irregular workers are often undertrained, overworked and alone on the job, making them vulnerable to deadly accidents.

A whopping 97 percent of 346 industrial accidents that took place in the five major power plant companies between 2012 and 2016 happened to irregular workers, according to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).

Kim, hired as an irregular worker by Korea Engineering and Power Service (KEPS), a subcontractor to KOWEPO, was working alone on an overnight shift when he got stuck in the running conveyor belt. No one else was there to hear his cries and stop the machine.

Irregular workers from various sectors call on President Moon Jae-in to ban subcontractor-based outsourcing operations and enforce direct hiring of workers during Saturday’s rally. / Yonhap

On Friday, a local civic group sued Kim Byung-sook, the CEO of KOWEPO, on charges of “aiding” Kim’s death.

“KOWEPO refused 28 requests from KEPS workers to upgrade the equipment to better meet safety standards, saying the upgrade would cost 300 million won,” said the group, called the Committee for the Livelihood of Common People. “Kim, who was charged with the dangerous maintenance tasks for conveyer belt parts, did not even receive a proper safety education and was working alone despite a safety rule calling for two people to work at a time.”

In May 2016, a similar death of a young mechanic at Guui Station on Seoul Metro Line 2 prompted the introduction of seven “anti-labor outsourcing” bills requiring firms to directly hire workers charged with dangerous tasks. All seven bills are pending at the National Assembly due to opposition from the business sector.

“My child may have suffered an unfair death but I hope his fellow workers can soon break free from danger,” Kim Mi-sook, mother of the deceased Kim Yong-gyun, tearfully told the crowd at Saturday’s rally.

By Lee Suh-yoon, The Korea Times

Taean Power Plant tragedy and the grim practice of outsourcing risk(hankyoreh)

#Taean_power_plant_tragedy #privatization #outsourcing_of_risk #subcontraction_worker_safety #South_Korea

“…critics are calling the accident a result of the government’s opening of the market for power plant servicing, which has led to competition for low-cost orders and the outsourcing of risk. ”

“…337 or the 346 accidents (97%) that took place over the five years from 2012 to 2016 at the five power companies (Korea Southwest Power, Korea Western Power, Korea Midland Power, Korea Southern Power and Korea East-West Power) occurred in subcontracted work. Subcontractor employees also accounted for 37 of the 40 deaths due to industrial accidents at the same companies over the nine years from 2008 to 2016, or 92%.”

Link: Original article from hankyoreh

How the privatization of public services and outsourcing of risk breeds accidents

A tragedy spawned by the outsourcing of risk claimed the life of another young subcontracting worker with the death of 24-year-old Kim Yong-gyun.

The discovery that Kim, who died on Dec. 11 after being caught in a machine at the Taean Power Station in South Chungcheong Province, was a subcontractor employee hired for a contracted position last September has prompted calls to end what many see as a vicious cycle of outsourcing critical work to irregular workers.
Operation and maintenance at the Korea Western Power Co. plant in Taean where Kim worked is performed by small private subcontractors. Korea Electric Power Industrial Development (KEPID) is responsible for the first to eighth units, while the ninth and tenth – where Kim lost his life – is handled by the Korea Engineering and Power Service (KEPS). The structure is one where the facilities belong to Korea Western Power, while the power plant’s operation is supervised by private subcontractors.KEPS, the company where Kim worked, was originally a public enterprise, but since 2014 the private equity investment company Kallista [sp.] Power Synergy has owned a 52.4% stake. Lee Seung-won, CEO of the managing company Kallista, is also CEO of KEPS.
For that reason, critics are calling the accident a result of the government’s opening of the market for power plant servicing, which has led to competition for low-cost orders and the outsourcing of risk. Members of the labor community contend that costs in non-profitable areas like servicing and safety are inevitably minimized when a private equity fund seeking maximum profits gets put in charge – as in the case of KEPS, the company where the accident occurred.
In the 1980s, power plant servicing and operation was a public monopoly under the responsibility of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) and its subsidiaries. But after the 1994 KEPCO KPS strike, the government spearheaded a privatization push. In the response to the strike by a KEPCO subsidiary in charge of power plant servicing, its idea was to allow the private market to provide the workforce and technology and replace the workers as needed. Ostensibly to boost the competitiveness of the small-scale private subcontractors that emerged, the government moved in 2013 to require competitive bidding for some domestic servicing volumes – the first stage of openness in power plant servicing.
“KEPS won its contract for operating and servicing coal equipment through competitive bidding with Korea Plant Service & Engineering (KPS),” explained a Korea Western Power official.“The competitive bidding was mandated by government policy,” the official said.
The government also planned for a second stage of openness with even more volumes put up for bidding, but that was put on hold with the arrival of the Moon Jae-in administration and its policies for granting irregular workers at public institutions regular worker status.
97% of power plant accidents occurred among subcontractor workers from 2012-2016
It is only a matter of time before poor safety conditions for subcontracting workers become an issue again. In April, the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU) reported that 337 or the 346 accidents (97%) that took place over the five years from 2012 to 2016 at the five power companies (Korea Southwest Power, Korea Western Power, Korea Midland Power, Korea Southern Power and Korea East-West Power) occurred in subcontracted work.
Subcontractor employees also accounted for 37 of the 40 deaths due to industrial accidents at the same companies over the nine years from 2008 to 2016, or 92%.
Subcontractor employees often end up falling between the cracks in terms of industrial safety. The companies are small in scale, and because workers are mainly hired under one-year contracts like Kim’s, they have little opportunity to develop their skills. The labor world has focused in particular on the fact that Kim’s death occurred while he was performing dangerous work alone late at night.
“The work that Mr. Kim was engaged in was originally something that a single shift of two full-time power plant employees would perform, but the outsourcing-based restructuring of the power plants resulted in those duties being passed on to subcontractors,” the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) said in a Dec. 11 statement.
“Mr. Kim would not have lost his life had they merely accepted the staff increases and two-person shifts that the labor world has been consistently demanding,” it argued.

Taean Power Plant. (Korea Western Power website)


No punishment for companies employing subcontractors
According to data received from the Ministry of Employment and Labor by the office of Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Yong-deuk, a total of 28 industrial accidents resulting in the deaths of three or more people occurred between 2013 and June 2018. A total of 109 workers died in the accidents, with 93 of them (85%) employed by subcontractors. In none of the cases did the company employing subcontractors receive punishment.
The outsourcing of risk drew heavy condemnation at a press conference held by representatives of the labor world at the Press Center in Seoul’s Jung (Central) district on Dec. 11.
“When the KTX train traveling the Gangneung line derailed at 7:35 am on Dec. 8, no one was more taken aback than the employees riding on the train, but because they were affiliated with Korail Tourism Development rather than Korail itself, no one said anything to them about what the situation was or what actions were being taken,” said the group Joint Struggle for Irregular Workers.
“These incidents with the KTX derailment and the KT [communications disruption] are just examples of the outsourcing of risk,” the group argued.
The labor community stressed the need to hold the companies employing subcontractors more accountable.
“We also need to change the paradigm, for example by introducing legislation to increase company accountability and punish companies involved in major disasters,” said Choi Myeong-seon, head of KCTU’s labor safety and public health office.
By Lee Ji-hye, Choi Ha-yan and Jung Hwan-bong, staff reporters

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

Original Article from:


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

Original Article from:

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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