PHM Korea statement on COVID-19 outbreak and responses in South Korea

March 19th, 2020


South Korea (hereafter Korea)’s COVID-19 outbreak and response are still ongoing, and assessment of it is rather hasty. But we share this conditional statement because we think it is our responsibility to share Korea’s experience with civil society around the world, which is experiencing COVID-19 outbreak one tempo later than ours. In particular, we hope that the main barriers to the government responses and the efforts of the Korean civil society to find and fill the blind spots out of reach of the government policies or existing systems will be a lesson for the civil society of each country in the responses of COVID-19.


  • Barrier One: Reactionary right-wing alliance makes the situation worse.

 One of the most difficult challenges the government is confronted is the political assaults by the reactionary right-wing alliances, including the opposition party, Korean Medical Association (KMA) and right-wing news media. Before the general election in April, the right-wings blame the government for almost everything. They unnecessarily politicized the problems, which hampered reasonable and timely decision making by the government. They deliberately stick to the term ‘Wuhan Pneumonia’ and still demand a total immigration ban against Chinese people, although many experts repeatedly pointed out that it was unnecessary and special immigration process has been working very well. The opposition party disturbed the formation of an ad-hoc parliamentary commission to plan the supplementary budget for dealing with the outbreak, insisting that the commission name should include the term ‘Wuhan Pneumonia’. Even the KMA denounced the national advisory committee of which members are delegates from eleven academic societies, claiming that several members of the committee are leftists and clandestine power figures dominate government policies. Such a claim was absurd, but the committee was dissolved for protecting individual scientists from political attacks.[1][2] The KMA strongly criticizes the rationing of face-mask by the government and recommends that every citizen has to wear disposable face-mask without re-use in spite of the serious shortage of supply. In this situation, people are confused and lose trust in the government. Then the government is more likely to make hasty decisions and adopt populist measures and has to pay more efforts to rebuke fake news and misleading demands.


  • Barrier Two: The private, market-oriented healthcare system is the main barrier to cope with the COVID-19 though the ‘public control’ over the private hospitals and diagnostic kits industry makes the system keep to work.

 The number of beds owned by public hospitals accounts for around 10% of the national total, which is the lowest one among the OECD member countries,[3] and the health care delivery system from primary care through to the tertiary-care hospitals is not well organized. So as the number of patients sharply increased, it became very difficult for the government to procure beds and allocate patients according to their severity, especially in Daegu where the entire healthcare system was overwhelmed by the acute surge of patients related to the religious event. So-called ‘Big 5’ hospitals located in the capital city Seoul including Seoul Samsung Hospital which was the hotbed for the MERS-CoV outbreak in 2015[4] are surprisingly invisible in this situation except for the Seoul National University Hospital, while they account for 35.5% of total National Health Insurance benefits reimbursed to the tertiary-care hospitals.[5] The CSOs cannot but repeat their aged but never achieved claim that the government should expand public hospitals.

Now, tentative partial ‘public control’ over the private hospitals works by utilizing a pre-existing informal public-private network, not sufficiently but in a more organized way over time. Public control works much better with regard to the diagnostic kits production and supply.[6] Without the support from the government (Ministry of Food and Drug Safety and The Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, KCDC) and the Korean Society for Laboratory Medicine, the industry would have never achieved the development and production of the diagnostic kits, and extensive screening tests with high quality would not be performed.[7] The acclaimed Korean test system is not the fruits of laissez-faire innovative capitalism and deregulation but an excellent example of tight coordination of public-private partnership and publicization of innovative technology. We should demand public benefit-sharing, including affordable prices and stable supplies and the public control over private sectors in dealing with public health emergencies instead of unleashed deregulation for innovation.


  • Barrier Three: Long-standing structural inequality/inequity paralyzes the control measures.

 Almost 80% of COVID-19 cases in Korea are linked to cluster infections,[8] and many of cluster cases reveal the structural inequity/inequality pervasive in Korea.

Among them, closed-ward hospitals for chronic psychiatric patients,[9] nursing homes for the elderly mostly in bedridden status, and living facilities for the severely disabled[10] became the hotbed for infection because of their poor living environments and underlying health conditions.

Dualized labor market which is caused by long-standing labor market liberalization makes effective prevention measures impotent; for example, the largest cluster infection in Seoul occurred in a call-center where workers cannot exercise ‘social distancing’ in a very crowded condition without proper ventilation system nor demand paid leaves in fear of layoff.[11] The more people stay at home for ‘social distancing’, the higher the work demands become in some sectors, such as call-centers and delivery services. One delivery worker died of Karoshi while dealing with skyrocketed online orders from the dawn to midnight.[12] As school closure extends, substitute teachers and caregivers in precarious employment have to work for children who cannot be cared at home, while regular teachers stay at home with paid leaves.[13] Pre-existing inequality and discrimination against low-waged, precarious workers aggravate the situation around the public health crisis.



  • Pros and Cons in the acclaimed ‘openness and transparency’ strategy of the Korean government.

 Korean Foreign Minister KANG Kyung-wha’s interview with the BBC on March 15th is gaining popularity. The strategy of the COVID-19 response by the Korean government, “openness, transparency and fully keeping the public informed,” appears to be paying off as Minister Kang said.[14]

There is a context in the government’s commitment to open and transparent responses. The secrecy strategy adopted by the right-wing government during the early phase of MERS-CoV outbreak in 2015 led to the failure of timely control and wide distrust in the government.[15] For the current liberal MOON Jae-in government, who was elected after the impeachment of the ex-president PARK Geun-hye, open and transparent responses to COVID-19 are becoming the barometers for legitimacy.

Current obsessive tracking/tracing of COVID-19 patients and information release/disclosure is possible thanks to the passage of the so-called ‘MERS act’ at the time of the MERS-CoV outbreak in 2015.[16] Recently, the government and the National Assembly also passed the so-called ‘COVID-19 acts,’ which allow involuntary testing, quarantine and treatment of those suspected of infection and the prosecution of those who refuse to test. This enabled the current aggressive massive screening tests.[17] While the ‘openness and transparency’ strategy is desirable in principle, there is a rising concern over privacy and human rights violation at the same time.[18] Indeed, many individuals were blamed and stigmatized as they ‘spread’ out viruses, and restaurants patients had visited had to shut down in order not to being blamed. After all, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea[19] announced the recommendation not to release specific addresses or workplace names of the COVID-19 patients, nor their travel path and the places they’ve visited to protect their privacy.[20] The KCDC had recently updated the guideline for local governments with incorporating such recommendations. However, CSOs have to follow up the situation and continue discussing how to protect population health in balance with individual human rights.


  • Role of civil societies.

Many NGOs and CSOs have been monitoring the situation the disadvantaged population, such as the disabled,[21] homeless,[22] and migrants[23] are faced with, and demanded government measures. Also, trade unions collected situation reports from their locals and investigated the sufferings of precarious workers who cannot access the paid leaves and proper protection from the COVID-19 infection.[24][25] On March 19th, NGOs and CSOs, including more than 40 organizations, national as well as local, announced a collective statement that the government should provide more support for vulnerable population, expand public hospitals, protect precarious workers regarding paid leaves and employment security, publicly control healthcare resources including face-masks, and organize community-based care system. Also the statement asserts that the media should stop their way of reporting obsessed with sensationalism and racism, stigmatizing special population groups.[26]

The government showed rather proper responsiveness; for example, undocumented immigrants can get the test without risk of deportation according to the decree of Ministry of Law,[27] and the Seoul Metropolitan Government began to provide ‘emergency care’ services for the disabled and the elderly who experienced the interruption of daily care services.[28] Although the government has shown unprecedented efforts and quick responses, the problems rooted in long-time under-investment in the social security system cannot be easily tackled. Many NGOs and voluntary community organizations are now trying to find and fill the blind spots in cooperation with local governments.

We hope this outbreak could facilitate social discussions for establishing a robust social protection system in Korea.


  • Participatory governance is needed dealing with pandemics.

 It is unrealistic to expect that all systems are perfectly in place in advance of an unprecedented public health crisis such as COVID-19 pandemic. There are many loopholes in the Korean government’s COVID-19 responses.

However, we could manage the situation better if we work together. Such loopholes could be filled through a ‘healthy’ partnership between the government and the civil society. The social power, including the CSOs, works to make the government actions more equitable and effective. The Korean civil society is closely monitoring the COVID-19 responses, as it did in the 2015 MERS-CoV outbreak,[29] with a focus on human rights and social justice.

We believe that ‘participatory governance’ would be effective for dealing with pandemic as well as defending democracy. We will keep working in solidarity.


pdf version of the statement:

[1] The Hankyoreh 21, March 13, 2020,

[2] The SisaIN, March 17, 2020,

[3] OECD Statistics

[4] Ki, 2015 MERS outbreak in Korea: hospital-to-hospital transmission, Epidemiol Health. 2015; 37: e2015033.

[5] The Young Doctors, May 27 2019,


[7] The SisaIN, February 14 2020,

[8] The Korea Herald, March 14 2020, 8 in 10 coronavirus cases in S. Korea linked to cluster infections

[9] The Washington Post, March 1 2020, How a South Korean psychiatric ward became a ‘medical disaster’ when coronavirus hit

[10] VOA, February 26 2020, Coronavirus Outbreak Inside 2 S. Korean Medical Facilities Highlights Vulnerability of Disabled Patients

[11] Yonhap News Agency, March 10 2020, Seoul call center emerges as city’s biggest infection cluster, numbers feared to rise

[12] Korea Joongang Daily, March 17 2020, Union blames Coupang for delivery worker’s death

[13] The Redian, March 17 2020,

[14] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 15 2020, Andrew Marr interviews Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha

[15] Minjeong Kang et al., 2018, From concerned citizens to activists: a case study of 2015 South Korean MERS outbreak and the role of dialogic government communication and citizens’ emotions on public activism, Journal of Public Relations Research, 30:5-6, 202-229, DOI: 10.1080/1062726X.2018.1536980

[16] The Korea Times, July 9 2015, Install epidemics system

[17] (Overseas Korea Centers), March 4 1010, Cabinet passes laws to fight COVID-19 outbreak

[18] Korean Federation Medical Activist Groups for Health Rights (KFHR), February 25 2020,

[19] National Human Rights Commission of Korea, March 9 2020,

[20] The Hankyoreh, Mar 16 2020, Government decides not to disclose personal information about novel coronavirus patients

[21] The Be Minor, March 18 2020,

[22] CSOs network, March 9 2020,

[23] Workers’ Solidarity, March 9 2020,

[24] Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU), February 28 2020, KPTU Healthcare Workers Solidarity Division Statement on COVID-19

[25] Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU), March 16 2020, COVID-19 and South Korean Workers, KCTU Demands

[26] CSOs network, March 19 2020,

[27] Yonhap News Agency, March 5 2020,

[28] Seoul Metropolitan Government, March 16 2020,

[29] People’s Health Institute (PHI), 2016,

South Korea COVID-19 Outbreak Archive (update Mar/17/2020)

PHI column series 1

——— community infection started in a city of Daegu ———


PHI column series 2

——— community infection started in a city of Daegu ———


Other columns or interviews by PHI


——— community infection started in a city of Daegu ———





[민중건강운동] WHO 146회 집행이사회의 감시자를 모집합니다


WHO Watchers from 72th WHA
WHO Watchers from 72th WHA(2019.05.)


민중건강운동이 2020년 2월 스위스 제네바에서 열리는 세계보건기구 집행이사회를 세계시민의 관점에서 감시할 동료를 모집합니다. 세계보건총회는 연 1회, 집행이사회는 연 2회 개최됩니다. 146번째로 개최되는 집행이사회에서 논의될 주제는 일차보건의료와 만성질환(NCD) 예방과 관리에 대한 정치적 선언 이후 세 번째로 열리는 고위급 회담에 대한 후속조치, 국제적 예방접족활동계획, 국제보건문제로 자궁경부암 퇴치 촉진, 결핵과 간질 끝내기, 공중보건위기에 대한 준비와 대응, 소아마비, 건강한 노화의 시대, 산모, 아동, 영아, 아이의 영양에 대한 내용이 될 것입니다.

감시자들은 Medicus Mundi International을 통해 집행이사회에 참여해 민중건강운동의 논평과 비판을 국가대표들에게 전달하고 집행의사회 회의기구에게 우리의 선언을 전달할 것입니다.

우리는 제네바에서 감시활동에 동참할 민중건강운동 활동가를 기다립니다. WHO 집행이사회에서 논의한 이슈들에 대한 역량을 발전시키고 회의에서 더 많은 논의에 참가하고 싶다면, 회의 이후에 현재 활동하고 있는 국가와 지역에서 이런 의제와 관련된 활동을 펼쳐나갈 생각이라면, 우리에게 연락을 해 주십시오. 활동은 강도높고 상당한 압력 속에서 진행될 것이 분명하지만 함께 감시활동을 펼쳐나갈 동료들과의 만남은 당신에게 큰 힘이 되어줄 것입니다. 집행이사회가 열리는 전체 기간과 일주일 전 시작하는 사전준비 워크숍을 포함해 전체 기간동안 참석해야 한다는 점도 중요합니다. 이를 위해서는 적어도 2020년 1월 27일 제네바에 도착해 2월 8에 떠나게 되는 일정을 예상해야 합니다.

국제보건거버넌스의 정치와 유엔의 의사결정과정에서 시민사회운동이 하는 역할을 이해하고 싶다면, 집행이사회 감시 사전준비 워크숍은 최적의 장소입니다. 사전준비 워크숍은 1월 28일부터 31일까지 진행됩니다.

세계보건기구의 146번째 집행이사회에 감시자로 참석하고 싶으신 분은 민중건강운동 페이지에 소개된 링크에 신청서식으로 신청하시기 바랍니다. 기한은 2019년 10월 25일입니다.




#PHM #WHO_Watch #MMI #EB146 #Global_health_governance

제4차 민중건강총회 선언

시민건강연구소는 2018년 11월 15-19일 방글라데시 사바르(Savar)에서 열린 제4차 민중건강총회에 참석했습니다. 전세계에서 모인 건강권 활동가들은 건강을 위한 투쟁이 더 공평하고 정의롭고 배려하는 세상을 향한 투쟁임을 결의했습니다.

연구소가 번역한 제4차 민중건강총회 선언을 확인해보세요.




Abortion ban Overturned in the Constitutional Court

Today, on April 11th 2019, abortion ban in South Korea has been ruled unconstitutional.
This is a historical victory for many Korean people, especially women, who has been fighting vigorously for decriminalization of abortion and women’s reproductive right.

The court ordered that the existing law should be revised by the end of 2020.


Constitutional Court says that abortion ban must end (Image from Womenlink Korea)

Joint Action for Reproductive Justice in South Korea, who played critical role in struggle for decriminalizing abortion, declared that we will never go back to the oppressive past, and requested administration and the legislature to ensure the sexual and reproductive right for all.

We want to celebrate this as a step forward the women’s health right in South Korea, and  want to share the Korean people’s struggle to abolish the abortion ban with our comrades around the world.

<Article 269 Abolition Performance of the Criminal Law made by 269 Members (2018.9.29)>


<Protest for Safe abortion, and women’s health right! (2018.03.30)>


<Waiting for Verdict, the Outside the Constitutional Court (2019.04.11)>


More information on the Abortion ban and court’s decision can be found on below

BBC News, “South Korea must end abortion ban by 2020, says court”

The Guardian, “South Korean court rules abortion ban must be lifted”

TIMES, “For 66 years, Women in South Korea Have Been Fined or Jailed for Having Abortions. That may be about to change”

#Women_health #Sexual_right #Reproductive_right #Abortion #South_Korea


[공개모집] 72번째 세계건강총회의 감시자가 되어보세요

#PHM #WHO_Watch #call_for_participation


WHO Watch는 PHM의 중요한 활동 중 하나로, 지구적 건강 거버넌스를 민주화하기 위한 이니셔티브입니다. 우리는 지구적 건강 정책결정과 실행을 좌우하는 정보 흐름, 그리고 권력관계를 변화시킴으로써 모두의 건강을 위한 지구적 환경을 만들고자 합니다. 이 이니셔티브는 PHM 뿐만 아니라 South Center, Third World Network 등 여러 국제 조직 및 네트워크들의 연대를 통해 이루어지고 있으며, 우리는 2011년 1월 이래 세계보건기구의 회의를 감시하고 비판적으로 지지하는 활동을 수행해오고 있습니다.  지금까지 100여명의 전세계 시민사회조직에서 발탁된 젊은 활동가들이 WHO Watch 활동에 참여했고, 훨씬 더 많은 사람들이 우리들의 감시 활동을 지원하고 지켜보았습니다.  WHO Watch의 구체적인 역할과 목표는 여기에서(, 그간의 WHO Watch의 활동 내역은 다음에서 확인할 수 있습니다(

PHM은 2019년 5월 14일부터 28일 사이 스위스 제네바에서 열리는 72번째 세계건강총회에 대한 감시를 준비하고 있습니다. 국제건강총회는 연 1회, 국제건강총회 집행이사회 회의는 연 2회 개최됩니다. 72번째 세계건강총회에서는 건강위기, 국제건강규약(2005)의 집행, 유행성 인플루엔자 대응, 소아마비 박멸, 건강 환경, 기후변화, 보건의료영역의 인적자원, 난민과 이주민 건강, 의약품과 백신에 대한 지구적 접근성 문제, 공중보건, 혁신과 지적재산권, 지속가능개발목표 달성, 11번째 국제질병분류법(ICD-11) 개정과 관련된 사안, 규격 미달 및 위변조 의약품에 대한 대응 등을 다룰 예정입니다.

감시자들은 Medicus Mundi International를 통해 세계건강총회 회의에 참석하고 PHM의 논평을 배포하고 우리의 입장을 각 국가의 대표들에게 옹호하며 우리의 성명을 전달할 것입니다. 우리는 제네바에서 감시를 수행할 PHM 활동가들을 찾고 있습니다. 세계건강총회에서 논의되는 사안들에 대해서 더 많은 지식을 얻길 바란다면, 회의 이후에 당신의 국가 또는 지역에서 해당 사안에 대한 옹호 활동에 개입하고 싶다면 우리에게 연락해주시기 바랍니다. 업무의 특성상 업무 강도가 높고 상당한 압박 속에서 진행될 가능성이 높지만, 그러한 가운데 동료 감시자들과 지지를 주고받는 것은 좋은 경험이 될 것입니다. 또한 이사회 개최 일주일 전에 시작되는 사전준비 워크숍을 포함해 총회의 전체 기간동안 참여하는 것이 필수적입니다. 따라서 감시자는 5월 13일 월요일 도착해 5월 28일에 제네바를 떠날 수 있어야 합니다.

국제적 건강 거버넌스의 정치에 관심이 있다면, 우리의 운동이 UN의 의결과정에 미치는 영향에 대해 이해한다면, 사전준비워크샵은 매우 흥미로울 것입니다. 사전준비 워크샵은 5월 14일부터 18일 사이 열릴 예정입니다.

72번째 세계건강총회에 참여할 의향이 있다면 PHM Global 안내 페이지에 첨부된 양식을 작성하여 주십시오. 2019년 2월 28일까지 신청해주시기 바랍니다.

72번째 세계건강총회 참석 안내(PHM Global)


RCEP(역내 포괄적 경제동반자협정) 반대 성명

#RCEP #FTA #Trade_and_Health #PHA4 #PHM_SEAP


역내 포괄적 경제동반자협정 (RCEP)은 아세안 10개국과 한국·일본·중국·인도·호주·뉴질랜드 등 16개국(전 세계 인구의 절반)이 참여하는 대규모 자유무역협정으로, 2013년 5월 1차 협상이 개시된 이래 약 5년 반 가량 협상과 조정이 이어지고 있습니다. 지난 2017년 10월에는 인천 송도에서 20차 RCEP 협상이 열리기도 했습니다.

현재까지 총 7개 챕터 (통관, 정부조달, 경제기술협력, 중소기업, 제도규정, 위생 및 검역조치, 기술규제 및 적합성평가)를 타결하고, 상품·서비스·투자시장 개방을 위한 막바지 협상이 진행 중입니다. 지난 2018년 11월 싱가포르에서 개최한 정상회의에서는 2019년 RCEP을 최종 타결하겠다는 결의를 담은 공동성명이 채택되었습니다. (출처: 산업통상자원부)

여느 무역협상과 같이 RCEP 역시 비밀리에 진행되고 있습니다. 협정문은 공개되어 있지 않고, 지적재산권, 의약품, 개인정보 등 각 국의 공공정책에 지대한 영향을 미칠 수 있음에도 충분한 의견수렴을 거치지 않고 있습니다. 특히 아시아·태평양 지역의 시민사회단체들은 RCEP 협상이 의약품, 개인정보보호, 공공재, 식량안보 및 지속가능한 개발과 관련된 접근권 등에 악영향을 미칠 것을 매우 우려하고 있습니다. (출처: 진보네트워크 “RCEP 협정, 한미 FTA에 미치는 악순환!“)

유출된 RCEP 초안 문서에 따르면, 한국은 한-미 자유무역협정(FTA) 당시 미국이 한국에 강요했던 모델을 그대로 다른 아시아·태평양 국가들에게 제시하고 있습니다. 예컨대 세계무역기구(WTO TRIPs)에서 요구하는 수준 이상(‘TRIPs Plus’)의 지적재산권 보호 규정을 요구함으로써 대다수 중저소득국가에서 적정 가격 제네릭 의약품에 대한 접근을 제약할 가능성이 있습니다. (출처: 국경없는의사회 “일본·한국에 RCEP 독소 조항 철회 요청“)

오는 2월 19일부터 28일까지 인도네시아 발리에서 25차 RCEP 협상이 진행됩니다. 이에 맞춰 아시아·태평양 지역의 시민사회단체들은 행동주간과 공동성명을 준비하고 있습니다.

작년 11월 열린 민중건강총회에서는 RCEP 협상이 아시아·태평양 지역 운동의 최우선순위라는 데에 대한 넓은 합의가 있었습니다. 민중건강운동의 무역과 건강 그룹은 RCEP에 반대하는 성명을 제시하였고, 수차례의 논의를 거쳐 최종 성명이 민중건강총회에서 채택되었습니다.

민중건강운동의 RCEP 반대 성명은 1902_RCEP_Statement_PHA4에서 확인하실 수 있습니다.

이 성명에 대한 연대서명은 아래 링크에서 하실 수 있습니다.


이 성명에서는 의약품 접근권, 여성과 젠더, 기후변화, 식량안보, 노동조건 등 RCEP에 의해 영향을 받을 것으로 예상되는 여러 가지 이슈를 다루고 있습니다. 무역협정은 기업에게 봉사하며 정부의 주권을 훼손하는 것이 아니라 민중의 권력을 강화하고, 모두의 건강을 위해 국경을 넘어 진정한 협력과 연대를 가능하게 하는 기반이 되어야 합니다.

성명과 연대서명 링크를 더 많은 시민사회 일원들(조직과 개인 모두)에게 전달해주시기 바랍니다. 연대서명의 기한은 2월 20일까지 입니다(호주 시간 기준).

‘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

[call for petition]Abortion should be decriminalized in South Korea, now!

PHM Korea supports the campaign of Joint Action for Reproductive Justice in South Korea which demands people’s action for the decriminalization of abortion and expansion of access to safe abortion in South Korea.

Please Join for the petition.

Petition for Safe Abortion in South Korea

#Reproductice_justice #safe_abortion #medical_abortion #South_Korea



In South Korea, abortion is the only medical procedure included in the Criminal Code (Article 269 and 270) since 1953. Abortion is only legal if the pregnancy causes the woman serious physical health issues, if the pregnancy is a result of an incest/rape, or if one of the parents has ‘eugenic’ disease. Also, this law requires the consent of (male) spouses even in these grounds. Women can be sentenced to a year in prison or ordered to pay fines of two million won (about $2,000) for having abortions. Doctors, midwives and any healthcare workers who provide abortions can face up to two years imprisonment.

Korean women and doctors for sexual, reproductive health and right(SRHR) have been fighting for decriminalizing of abortion since 2010. This year is a very critical moment to decriminalize abortion under the circumstances that the Constitutional Court is currently reviewing a case that challenges the abortion law’s constitutionality. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Welfare issued revised regulations toughening punishment for doctors who perform abortions. The ministry also labeled providing abortion services as an ‘immoral medical practice’.

Abortion has been a widespread experience for many Korean women. According to a government estimate, based on a survey of women of childbearing age, 169,000 abortions(16 abortions per 1,000 people) were conducted in 2010, the latest year for which data is available. While the government has neglected it, abortion practice was not adequately monitored nor officially educated.

Sign the petition to decriminalize abortion and to expand access to safe abortion in South Korea. We’ll collect our voices directly to the Constitutional Court, and push to draw the stalled verdict. By signing you will be a great support to women’s movement in South Korea and stunning wake-up call for our policymakers and judges.

[Our demands]
-Article 269, 270 of the Criminal Code is unconstitutional. Repeal the 269, 270!”
-Provide safe abortion!
-Officially register the abortion pills!
-Guarantee sexual rights and comprehensive sexual education!
-Guarantee safe and legal abortion for everyone!
-End stigma!