By Heo Jae-hyeon
A number of people have come forward and claimed that Samsung Electronics has offered large settlements to employees and their families in order to persuade them to drop industrial accident claims. Employees filed the claims after contracting diseases such as leukemia while working in the company’s semiconductor and liquid crystal display (LCD) plants. Surviving family members of employees who have already died from diseases, as well as employees currently suffering from disease and their family members, have claimed that Samsung has offered hundreds of millions of won in settlements in order to persuade them to drop their industrial accident claims and terminate contact with civic organizations.
Meeting with journalists on July 5, the mother of Park Ji-yeon, an employee who died on March 31 after contracting leukemia in 2007 while working at a Samsung Electronics semiconductor plant, said that she received a settlement of around 400 million Won ($333,605) from Samsung in early April and that she dropped her industrial accident lawsuit in mid-May. Park’s mother, identified by the surname Hwang, said, “Samsung instructed me not to meet with groups like the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and to move away so that members of civic organizations would be unable to contact me.”
According to accounts from her family members, Samsung Electronics secretly proposed the settlement to them just before Park passed away. Her case was in the middle of administrative litigation after the Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service (KComWel) ruled in 2009 that it would not recognize the case as an industrial accident.
“The settlement offered by Samsung Electronics was in the neighborhood of 400 million Won,” a family member said. “It included 380 million Won in pure settlement, including 50 million Won in insurance money, along with around 20 million Won in funeral expenses. As a condition for the settlement, Samsung asked that we give up the industrial accident suit and that we not have any contact with civic organizations.”
Park’s family faced a difficult choice. The costs of her two years and nine months of treatment alone was more than 100 million Won, and they were in debt by some 50 million Won. In the end, they decided to take the money offered by Samsung and drop the lawsuit. The money arrived in Hwang’s Nonghyup bank account on April 2, an hour before Park’s ashes were scattered in the waters off Sokcho. In her bankbook, the name of the sender was clearly printed out: “Samsung Electronics.”
Hwang felt belated remorse for taking the money from Samsung. After reaching the settlement amid a difficult situation, she canceled the lawsuit and cut off contact with the media, she said, but “after paying off all the debts incurred from her treatment, I felt empty inside, and I could not shake the feeling that I had let Ji-yeon down.”
“They gave us money in order to bury our child’s death away in the ground,” Hwang said. “If Samsung Electronics bears moral responsibility, it is only right for it to give consolation money, but why make us drop the industrial accident suit and prevent us from contacting civic organizations? They are using the weakness of poor people to buy them off with money in order to conceal the truth. We were used by Samsung.”
More accounts have surfaced to indicate that Samsung Electronics has persuaded not only Park’s family, but also other sick employees and family members of deceased employees to drop industrial accident claims. This fact was attested to in detail by the family members of Han Hye-kyeong, a 31-year-old Samsung Electronics LCD plant employee suffering from a brain tumor, and Yeon Jae-wook, a Samsung Electronics LCD plant employee who passed away in 2009 from a mediastinal tumor.
A Samsung Electronics official came to see Yeon’s family in mid-March, just after KComWel ruled that it would not recognize his illness as an industrial accident. His family was planning to continue the legal battle by requesting another KComWel judgment together with the civic organization Banollim. At that time, however, an official with Samsung Electronics’ Environment & Safety Group came by and offered to provide assistance with the industrial accident recognition process. The official also offered a settlement in the amount of 120 million Won. Yeon’s family turned the official down, however, and said they would request the judgment with Banollim. The visiting official said curtly, “If you work with Banollim, we cannot give you any money.”
Kim Si-nyeo, the 54-year-old mother of Han Hye-kyeong, received a similar offer in early June. She was called up with settlement offers by a Samsung Electronics higher-up and an ordinary employee whose names she does not recall. Kim currently endures very difficult living conditions, having moved not long ago from a 17 million Won deposit rental unit to a 5 million Won monthly rental unit in order to arrange the money for her daughter to receive treatment in her battle with a brain tumor. She also sold off the small restaurant she previously ran. Now she has no income. The settlement offer from Samsung was very tempting, but Kim turned it down.
“Samsung became a social problem, leaving my daughter exposed to that dangerous work environment, and its improper practice of trying to cover that up with money needs to be fixed,” she said.
Samsung Electronics has denied the recent flood of claims. A human resources team official who was in contact with Hwang refused an interview request from the Hankyoreh, calling it “burdensome.”
“It is true that we met with family members of people who were fighting disease or had passed away, but we merely discussed assistance with livelihood expenses, and we never told anyone to drop an industrial accident claim,” said the Samsung Electronics public relations office, who instead sent an e-mail response to the Hankyoreh. “We have recently, formulated criteria for assisting people in critical condition and are offering additional support.”
But the family members who met with Samsung officials tell a different story. Hwang said, “Samsung explicitly told me to drop the industrial accident suit, and I dropped it.”
“Samsung is lying,” she repeated.
“Samsung does not say outright that you cannot file an industrial accident claim,” said Yeon Mi-jeong, the younger sister of Yeon Jae-wook. “But what does it mean when they say they cannot give you consolation money if you file an industrial accident claim through a civic organization?”
Kim Ki-young, a former Samsung Electronics section chief who retired in early May after contracting Wegener’s granulomatosis, a rare disease, after working for around a decade as an engineer at the company, met on April 1 with a company official and a section chief identified by the surname Lee. Kim asked Lee, who was visiting him at his home in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, to cooperate in his industrial accident claim. The response, however, was not favorable.
According to a recording of the conversation between Kim and the Samsung official, the latter recommended that Kim resign and said, “A condition of receiving consolation money is that you not file any civil, criminal, or administrative lawsuit.” Kim responded by saying, “It is an unfair demand to say that we cannot hold the company responsible for the disease any more after receiving recognition of an industrial accident.”
Why does Samsung Electronics have its feelers up over the question of the recognition of industrial accident claims by employees? According to Banollim, the company is engaged in “petty ploys” to conceal its industrial accidents. Labor attorney Lee Jong-ran said, “When Samsung outwardly says that it has faith in its plants’ safety, while secretly persuading people to take settlements, that is an attempt to cover up an industrial disaster.”
Kim Eun-gi, head of the KCTU labor safety bureau, said that having Park Ji-yeon’s administrative suit dropped was part of a carefully plotted strategy by Samsung Electronics. According to Kim, Park’s case had the highest odds of victory among the six employees who had received industrial accident non-recognition judgments in May 2009.
“Samsung probably took into account the effect it would have on the industrial accident claims of the other workers if Ms. Park’s case was recognized as an industrial accident,” Kim said.
Original article at: http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/ENGISSUE/74/430105.html