One of the latest of a long string of victims of anti-union South Korean conglomerate Samsung, is Samsung LCD facility engineer Kim Joo-hyun, who died by committing suicide on January 11, 2011. He was 25 years old (26 in the Korean way of counting age). Since then it has been more than 50 days. His family – his parents and his elder sister – have been postponing the burial of Joo-hyun’s body until now, as expression of their expectation of justice. Joo-hyun’s body remains at the morgue.
The family’s first demand is an apology. Because the day that he fell from the 13th floor of his Samsung worker dormitory, there were 300 cameras around the dormitory, recording everything.
Just after his death, his father went to the police and they showed him an edited video. They explained to him that he had fallen himself, and that thus it was suicide, not murder. The family spent 10 more days, trying to get the raw, unedited footage of the surveillance video. And they found that actually, he had tried four times to jump. The first two times, he tried and gave up himself, returning to his room. But the third time, when he was at the edge of the balcony on the 13th floor, he was found by another person in the dormitory. That person called the Crisis Help Centre (an office inside Samsung), and then 3-4 men came and persuaded him and escorted him to go back to his room on the 6th floor. But inexplicably, after talking with him a few minutes, the men left the room, leaving him there – alone. After another 10 minutes, Joo-hyun came out – and succeeded in jumping and falling to his death.
After realizing this from the raw videos, the family asked:
1) Why did the company let him try repeatedly?
2) Why did the men leave Joo-hyun alone?
3) Why did they not even call his family or other friends? Joo-hyun had his cellphone.
But Samsung until now has given no answer.
The family’s targets are Samsung, the police and the Ministry of Labor. Kim Joo-hyun worked 12-15 hours a day. He couldn’t rest even on his holidays. He would get calls from the factory to come to work, as if he was on call (though his job is not of an on-call nature). He could not sleep or rest enough. He only visited his hometown one to two times a month, sometimes even only once in two months.
His suicide can be considered suicide from overwork – karo-jisatsu in Japanese, something which can be legally compensated in Japan.
Joo-hyun’s hardship at Samsung
Joo-hyun had been at Samsung for about one year. He had joined Samsung in November 2009 to work as a facility engineer in the fab (fabrication) department of Samsung LCD factory; he was to keep the machines running smoothly.
He had severe skin problems and signs of depression by the time he committed suicide. Just a month or two after he began work in the ‘clean room’, he began to get mild symptoms of atopic dermatitis (like eczema), but it soon became very severe, especially on the side of his legs. When he showed his painful legs to his father in July, his father could see the top layer of skin was very damaged, and even discharging some liquid. It was very itchy and painful for Joo-hyun. He finally requested to change his job duties, and was re-assigned to another location and job in the factory. But in the new department also, he got severely stressed. The supervisors abused him, especially looking down on him for his education level, as he was a graduate of a two-year college.
Moreover, from the beginning of his job, even when he had been working in the clean room, he was forced to write a 20-page report immediately the day after, if there was ever any mistake or damage to the equipment. Thus, even after working extremely long hours and while suffering from skin damage and abuse from superiors at the workplace, he would have to go home and stay up to write the 20-page report. The treatment of workers in the factory was like towards soldiers, or children – typical of many Samsung factories, and apparently of many electronics factories, even in China and Taiwan.
Family and supporters protest
Since a few days after Joo-hyun’s death, Joo-hyun’s family members have been picketing every morning in front of the Samsung LCD factory; they have been doing so for more than 40 days. They also picket near the dormitory, usually in the afternoon, but have not been allowed to go inside anymore. The family and supporter have also recently begun to picket one hour a day during the week, in front of Samsung Headquarters.
SHARPs and KCTU have also written to and protested to the government and police to demand a thorough investigation. The sad death of young Joo-hyun is only one in a long string of tragic deaths of young Samsung workers in South Korea.
Monday, February 28, 2011, was the 49th day since the death of Joo-hyun. It is the day when it is traditionally believed that a soul will return to heaven. The family of Joo-hyun and their supporters conducted a ceremony at Chun-an Station square, to commemorate Joo-hyun’s death and call for the public to join in demanding Samsung take responsibility.
Strangely (or not), Samsung has kept silent in response to the family’s pleas. Yet every morning at 8 a.m., and steadily in rotating shifts until 10 p.m., a man can be found keeping the family in surveillance at the funeral hall where Joo-hyun’s funeral had been held.
Samsung and LG’s LCD factories
Having a dormitory for workers is not very common in Korea. Yet Samsung built a huge dormitory which houses at least several hundred workers.
Just 8 days earlier, another Samsung worker had committed suicide, jumping from another place in the dormitory. She was 23 years old. In the Samsung dormitory, an apartment has three rooms, and three workers stay in each room. The number of apartments per floor is not exactly known, but there are at least 13 floors.
It is quite possible that suicides have been happening in other factories such as in LG. However LG’s main workforce is dispatch (temporary) workers, and they do have a union, at least in form. On the other hand, Samsung’s main workforce is regular (formal) workers, and Samsung is adamantly anti-union. Samsung workers thus usually work longer, generally expecting to work for their life in the company. But with no way to handle the grievance between union and company, the family must appeal to the public. In spite of the public appeals, Samsung has remained unresponsive – only making itself appear more culpable.
Samsung workers should be happy and enjoying their work for a great brand and pride of the nation, but instead they have been suffering and dying in increasing numbers, shushed by the company and even ignored by government authorities. We appeal to the public who reads this blog, to let more people know about what happened to Kim Joo-hyun, as well as the others whose stories have been shared here. Only through such support and solidarity can the small Davids of Samsung worker victims fight against the Goliath of anti-union Samsung conglomerate and the South Korean government for justice.
We urge you to leave your messages of condolence and solidarity to the grieving family of Kim Joo-hyun in the comments. We will translate them and share with his family.