Ji-yeon Park (Deceased)
- In December 2004, born in 1987 and a final year student at Kang-kyung Industrial High School, she entered Samsung Semiconductor On-yang Factory
- She worked on the quality inspection team doing inspection and on the first line doing inspection of experiments using chemicals and special inspection work involving X-ray
- In August 2007, she suffered breathing difficulties, vomiting, bleeding, swollen gum etc and was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid leukemia
- In October 2007, she was transferred to Yeoido St Mary’s Hospital, received chemotherapy four times and then received a bone marrow transplant in April 2008
- In April 2008, she participated in filing a complaint for occupational disease through SHARPs along with Ok-yee Kim, the late Min-woong Huang, and the late Sook-young Lee
- In May 2009, despite her sickness she testified at the Advisory Medical Council meeting held at the Chun’an branch office of the Korea Worker’s Compensation and Welfare Service
- In September 2009, she suffered relapse of leukemia and received two more rounds of chemotherapy
- On March 26, 2010 her situation rapidly deteriorated and was admitted to Seoul St Mary’s Hospital under the intensive care unit. She suffered from deterioration of her lung and heart
- On March 31, 2010 at 10:55am she was declared dead. On April 2, her ashes were spread in the sea in front of Sokcho
Park Ji-yeon’s interview before her death (June 2009)
It was too cruel to be a coincidence
- “My first (monthly) salary was about 780,000 Won (about US$680). Even if I counted my O/T hours, it would only amount to 900,000 – 1,000,000 Won.”
- “They even came to my house to ask me “not to file a complaint about my occupational disease.”
Throughout the whole interview, Ji-yeon repeatedly said the word “sorry”. What fault has she committed to be feeling so sorry? Leukemia, whose mere name brings fear, made the 23-year-old lose her whole life. It is questionable what really forces her to live a “regrettable life”.
Currently fighting the disease, Ji-yeon had only been working at the Samsung Semiconductor On-yang factory for less than three years when she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Recently on May 19, along with four other workers from the Samsung Semiconductor Factory also suffering from leukemia, she received a rejection for the complaint she had filed for occupational disease.
The reality that was too far from the dream a girl had
Because of her family’s poor financial situation, she gave up college in middle school and entered a vocational high school. ‘I must graduate quickly and earn money’ was the only thought that filled her mind. To her, Samsung was a large corporation that could be a stepping stone towards realizing her dreams. However, in the spring of her final year at high school, she applied for work at the Samsung Semiconductors and in December of the same year, the reality that fell upon her was far from the dream she had.
“My first salary was about 780,000 Won. Even if I counted my O/T hours, it would only amount to 900,000 – 1,000,000 Won. Even if I took 12-hour shifts for four days a week, my pay was only a little over 1,300,000 Won. Since the work consisted mostly of long hours of hard manual labour, the only places I went to were my dormitory and the factory. In addition, even if I returned to my dormitory, I felt restless. In the beginning there was so much to memorize and I was stressed about the exams. Later on, I would think ‘Did I mishandle the defective goods?’ and I would be unable to rest peacefully.”
At the On-yang factory, Ji-yeon Park examined the half-finished semiconductors and passed the goods on to the next process. The dream of ‘diligently earning money to buy a house for my parents, sending them on a trip and being a good daughter’ was what sustained her to tolerate the hard labour and the foul smell of the chemicals. She thought after 5-10 years she would be able to earn a lot of money but what awaited her was leukemia, a disease people would only get in movies and dramas.
“I was very happy and even proud of myself for being accepted into such a large corporation. I had high hopes of earning money bit by bit. However, I never expected that the price I would have to pay for working at Samsung would be leukemia.”
‘If you don’t file a complaint for occupational disease, we will takefinancial responsibility for your treatment.’?
The number of casualties and people who are struggling against leukemia is now (in 2009) confirmed to be 22. According to the father of the late Yu-mi Huang, Samsung initially tried to stop them from filing complaints by bribing them with huge sums. They tried to silence the co-workers and clean up the work site to conceal the diseases.
Ji-yeon Park’s case wasn’t any different. Before Ms Park’s interview went public, Samsung didn’t show any reaction. Perhaps they thought that they could take the money out of the workers’ pockets to compensate her, the whole situation could be covered up. However, as soon as Samsung found out that Ms Park had joined hands with other victimized workers and their families as well as other contemporary organizations, its attitude changed.
“They even came to my house to ask me “not to file a complaint about my occupational disease.” As long as I didn’t file a complaint, they would take care of all medical fees. They even came to find me at my house in the countryside, offering to “renovate the house clean” for me. At first, I had no idea what to do, nor did my parents. However, it was clear it was an occupational disease and if only this fact were confirmed, I would not need to work under such a dubious company in order to receive stable treatment.”
Just as expected, when Ms Park filed a complaint, Samsung’s attitude suddenly turned cold. They claimed that they “never offered to fix the house” and told her to take action according to the law.
An epidemiologic investigation? Rather, an ‘empty’ investigation!
“They changed the working environment completely compared to when I used to work there, so of course there would be no problems identified. About that time, I spoke on the phone with a colleague there. When they carried out the epidemiologic investigations, not only did they thoroughly clean up the whole place, but also had workers wear masks and cotton gloves that absorbed chemicals. Other protective equipment was newly supplemented.”
Last year on December 29, when the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency published “The epidemiologic report regarding the health deterioration of the labourers working in the semiconductors manufacturing process”, suspicions were raised that the results and the risk of diseases were concealed and distorted.
SHARPs saw the report and claimed that instead of using the number of labourers working in the particular hazardous production line, aka the ‘accident line’, the report had wrapped up the statistics crudely by calculating the risk of disease using the total number of workers at the semiconductors. In addition, SHARPs claimed that workers were healthier at the recruitment stage and the workers with health problems usually retired or were transferred, thus leaving the factory. As a result, only the healthy workers remained at the factory (called the ‘healthy worker effect’). The report had completely neglected this. Furthermore, the report disguised lymphoma and leukemia as other diseases, making it look as if the risk of leukemia were small. This raised the suspicion that the report was merely eager to disguise the obvious risks as minimal or even to conceal the evident risks completely.
In the end, the media has already distorted the truth, stating ‘it is confirmed that the risk of leukemia in the semiconductors industry is not high,’ but ‘on the contrary it is safer than other ordinary sector of the population.
Ji-yeon Park fought for the rights of labourers despite her struggle against her disease
“The Korea Worker’s Compensation and Welfare Service should be responsible for providing the compensation for treatment and guarantee their right to life.”
“In our poor financial situation, I hoped to be a good daughter so I gave up college and entered a big corporation called Samsung, but in less than three years, what greeted me was the dreadful leukemia, a disease only people in movies and dramas would get. In high school, I was so healthy I had never even come down with the flu and so I thought I was dreaming when suddenly in one night, I was diagnosed with a disease that was a matter of life and death. I could only bitter and regretful of my choice to enter Samsung in the first place. (…) Henceforth, I needed 5 years for a full recovery and always had to live in the fear of a relapse and even if there was a relapse, I not only had no money to pay for the treatment but also would not be able to earn any income. I would use up all the living expenses my mom made from her restaurant on my hospital fees and medicine and then there would be no way to sustain a living. I would not be able to live on and so with this pain and discomfort of my body and the suffocative feeling in my heart, I have dragged myself out here today. (…) I hope that there will no longer be people who are diagnosed with a disease like I was, and in order to help the victims live without concerns for medical fees and living expenses the Korea Worker’s Compensation and Welfare Service should be responsible for providing the compensation for treatment and guarantee their right to life.”
- Testified by Ji-yeon Park at the Chun’an Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service Advisory Medical Council on May 15, 2009
On May 19, 2009 the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service joined hand in hand with Samsung when they announced the ‘rejection of all disease complaints’ filed by the semiconductors leukemia workers.
“The reason for rejection was merely 2-3 lines. There was no way to accept this. It was all so unfair. I felt so bitter and frustrated at both Samsung and the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service. The shock I received now from the rejection is no different from the shock I received when I was diagnosed with leukemia in the beginning. I expected the fight against such a big corporation such as Samsung to be difficult, but somewhere in my heart, I did carry some small hopes…”
The few lines in the notification letter of rejection, which was sent by the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service after more than a year, drove Ms Park’s remaining life into despair again. In the notification, under the subheading ‘Processing result and specific reasons’ there was the following text: ‘In order to investigate the truth of whether the said disease is an occupational disease, we comprehensively examined relevant documents, the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency’s epidemiological report, our company’s Advisory Medical Council’s findings, and Article 39, section 1, asterisk 1 of the previous enforcement regulations of the law on compensation and insurance regarding occupational diseases, etc. We found that since the patient’s leukemia has little causal relevance, we hereby reject your initial application for medical pay.” There was nothing specific about the ‘specific reasons’.
“We hereby reject your application.”
“I am at total loss what to do now. My mother is now working day and night to take up the living expenses and the medical fees but I don’t know how much longer we could uphold this barely manageable life…Since there is nothing I can do, I feel so bad for even eating a meal. As I stay home all day by myself, I was consumed with guilt. I didn’t commit any crime but I couldn’t help feeling indignant at why all these things were happening to me… Since cleanliness was the most important thing for a leukemia patient, so my mother and I had to leave my father alone in our countryside house to get a flat in town. Once, we went to see my father in the countryside and when I saw him having a hard time living alone, I felt so sorry I started tearing up.”
Ji-yeon had a bone marrow transplant surgery in April last year, but within 7~8 days, she had already been rushed off to the emergency room 3 times. Her resistance against the disease had decreased so rapidly that she developed shingles, growing blisters around her face and eyes. The pain was so serious that she could not stay off pain-killers. She never knows when she would get shingles again so she has to live in constant apprehension.
Just when Ji-yeon was experiencing great difficulties in even just pulling herself together, at the age of 21 she was diagnosed with leukemia which brought all kinds of burden: the shock of losing her whole life completely overnight, the reality of worrying about the medical fees and the living expenses, the pain of her complaint being rejected and herself being neglected by Samsung and society.
She feels so sorry she is troubling her parents that she is consumed with overwhelming guilt, which caused her to say ‘sorry’ repeatedly throughout the interview.
“If only I didn’t have to worry about the medical fees”
“So far, I think the medical expenses reach up to 100,000,000 Won. I don’t know how much more money would be needed for my treatment, especially when even with emergency situations arising I still need to go to the hospital regularly twice a week and each time I go there it costs 300,000 Won. Seeing my situation now, my greatest desire is to recover as fast as possible but right now, I cannot help but think: if only I didn’t have to worry about the medical fees.”
When asked ‘if you weren’t sick, what would you like to do?’ Ms Park was lost for words. Perhaps she was thinking ‘what kind of question is this’ or perhaps she never even thought about it. She had always been worried about her family’s financial situation and had given up college at middle school. She had entered Samsung Semiconductors right after graduation from high school. As she scraped up every penny from her salary and tolerated the rough work, she probably didn’t even have the spare time to think about ‘what she would like to do’.
Her answer, ‘What I…want to do? I didn’t really think about that…” was probably the most natural thing to expect.
Ji-yeon Park, guilty! Kun-hee Lee, innocent!
Along with Ji-yeon, the disappeared leukemia workers, the sheer number of which has never been confirmed, contributed their blood and sweat to the semiconductor industry. It has been called “IT Korea” since the 1990s and recognized as the leading export industry in Korean economy.
Last year, a “Semiconductor Day” was specially enacted. From the mid-1980s Samsung Electronics was the largest corporation making colossal profits from semiconductors. The government regime of Myung-bak Lee also plans to create basic laws for green growth to make the internationally competitive sectors of semiconductors, displays, mobile phones, shipbuilding and automobiles make groundbreaking improvements in the global markets.
But behind all the glitz and glamour, the pains of the semiconductor workers were too severe. The massive profits and the ‘globally competitive’ semiconductors took up 11.3% (in 2007) of the global markets but all the titles came at the price of the valuable sacrifices of the labourers. There is definitely nothing so boastful about this. If the semiconductors industry nurtured Korea’s economy, the price paid was abandoning the semiconductor workers like worn-out shoes, treating them no better or worse.
That day when she had to wait a long time at the hospital, it was already 6pm when Ji-yeon was leaving the hospital after her treatment. Feeling exhausted after the interview, she saw the news of president Kun-hee Lee’s acquittal on the news on her way home.
The previous president of Samsung, Kun-hee Lee paid merely 6.1 billion Won for 1.6 billion Won of gift taxes, handed over the company consisting of 200 trillion units to his son and was pronounced to be innocent. The statement of truth by the lawyer, Yong-cheol Kim exposed worldwide the astronomical slush funds, Omni-directional lobbying directed at national organizations and individuals, the elimination of legal evidence and auditing reports. These were all disregarded to point to Lee’s acquittal as well. And so the world was shouting, “Ji-yeon you are guilty, and Kun-hee Lee is innocent!”
The world was too cruel for everything to be a mere coincidence.
After the interview
On the day of the interview, Ji-yeon was already exhausted from the blood tests and the cancer centre, as well as the ophthalmology treatment. We asked “if you weren’t sick now, what would you like to do?” She couldn’t answer for a long time, and finally said “I never considered it”. She sank deeper into her chair.
A few days later, we received a text message from Ji-yeon.
“In the end, regarding what I want to do…that would be to be able to take off my mask like normal people, go to work freely like a normal person, and eat what I want to eat as much as I want…Please add this answer for me.”
After a few days of thoughts, this was the answer that Ms Park came up with. However, there is a likelihood that such a small but honest hope of a 23-year-old worker may never come true. It was Samsung, the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service, and the entire Korean society that heartlessly stepped on those blooming dreams.
Translated from Korean, from SHARP- Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor Industry – Newsletter, 2nd Edition (April 28, 2010)
Interview from June 3, 2009 <Chungcheong Media> Reported by Won-jong Park
Ji-yeon’s interview video before her death can be found on SHARPs’s blog site: