‘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