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Archive for May, 2014

ImageYeom Ho-seok, 34-year-old unionist, committed suicide after months of emotional and financial hardships following his unionization efforts. One of his selfies has now become his funeral portrait.

South Korean police have seized and effectively hid the body of a Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. contractor who committed suicide after about eight months of financial and emotional hardships he suffered for representing his union local—a sign that the world’s largest technology company still has yet to address a mountain of thorny labor issues even after its recent promise to pay due compensation to victims of its leukemia cluster.

Teargas In The Morgue

On the evening of May 18, about 400 police raided the morgue of Seoul Medical Center and seized the body of Yeom Ho-seok, the Samsung Electronics Service union representative who committed suicide two days earlier.  After two hours of a standoff with some 100 unionists surrounding the building, the police arrested twenty-four and used tear gas to disperse the protestors and seize the body.

The Third Death

On May 17, a day after his suicide, Yeom’s body was found in his car, with two handwritten notes, one for his parents and one for the union, and burnt charcoal.  Since August of last year when the 34-year-old local convener helped form a local of the Samsung Electronics Service union in the metropolitan area of Busan-Yangsan, management had substantially reduced assignments for him, who, on a contract basis, did on-site repairs of a variety of Samsung home appliances.  Over the past eight months, Yeom took home about U$400 a month while working for the world’s largest technology company in a country with a median annual wage of U$37,000.

Yeom’s death is the third, and the second by suicide, at Samsung Electronics Service, the corporate giant’s outsourcing network for after-sale maintenance and repair of 107 regional contractors with about 6,000 temporary workers.  In October 2013, Yim Hyeon-woo died of an overwork-caused brain hemorrhage.  A month later, Choi Jong-beom committed suicide, devastated by stepped-up discipline and substantial cuts in job assignments after he helped form a nationwide union.

Outlandish Police Response

In one of his notes, Yeom requested his body “remain in state until his local wins [recognition].”  Yeom’s father at first permitted–with a written note–the union to proceed with the funeral process.  However, according to the police, he called the police emergency line to ask the government to claim Yeom’s body which he reported the union kept against his and his family’s will—despite the fact that Yeon’s birth mother protested the police when they seized the body.  A mobilization of 400 police was an outlandish police response over a dubious dispute over one dead body in a quiet morgue.

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 About 400 riot police scuffled with about 100 unionists for two hours to snatch Yeom’s body.

Cremation

The police did not place the body in a Busan mortuary where they said it would be stored.  Samsung Electronics Service unionists found that a number of crematory and mortuary spots in the Busan area were booked under Yeom’s name.  On May 20, Yeom’s body was said to be cremated in a crematory far outside Busan.  His father remained out of contact.

Encampment

Following Yeom’s death, as many as 700 Samsung Electronics Service unionists encamped at the Samsung Electronics corporate headquarters in southern Seoul, calling for union recognition and full-time employment status.

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The following are full translations of Yeom’s notes.  All brackets [ ] are added.

Note 1.

To My Local Unionists,

I am in Jeongdoingjin [famous for its scenic sunrise].  This is where the sun rises.  I chose here because I believe our local will not lose its light and will win just as the sun will rise again tomorrow.

I really thank comrades of the Busan-Yangsan local and across the nation for caring for  and showing their concern for me like I was their own brother.  It was a great joy for me, a nobody, to stay with them.  Because I can no longer sit by as more sacrifices and more pain are wrought upon our unionists and because I can no longer sit by their hardships, I am dedicating myself.

I wish our local victory on [my sacrifice]. If you find my body, please put it in state until our local wins [recognition].  After triumph, please scatter my cremated ashes here [in Jeongdoingjin].

 

One last thing.  The father of one of our local unionists is still in hospital.  Hospital bills have become mountainous.  Please help him with the bills when negotiations ended [successfully with management].

Note 2.

Dear Father and Mother,

I am sorry that this is the first and the last time I write to you.  I always want to be the son of whom you are proud, but I always make you worry—and I am now about to hurt you deeply in your hearts.  Your son is making a difficult decision, but not a bad one.  I believe this decision to be right as long as my sacrifice can help better the lives of all Korean workers.  I am sorry to leave this note, even without calling you.

There is one favor I need to ask of you.  Please hold a funeral only after a good result comes to my local of the Samsung Electronics Services union.  Please scatter my ashes here in Jeongdoingjin where the sun rises.

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On May 13, 2014, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. vice chairman and CEO Kwon Oh-hyun made a public apology to the victims of the company’s leukemia cluster. Source: News1/The Hankyeoreh

Samsung Electronics Co.. Ltd. has finally made a public apology to the victims of a leukemia cluster at its chip plants and promised compensation for them—seven years after the SHARPS campaign borne out of the death of Hwang Yu-mi, the first publicly known victim of the cluster, and six months after stalled negotiations with the victims’ families and the advocate group.

Apology without Concession

In a cautiously worded statement May 13, Samsung vice chairman and CEO Kwon Oh-hyun said the world’s biggest technology company should have sought a solution sooner, but stopped short of conceding a direct link between the company’s lax safety measures and the outbreak of leukemia and other blood diseases among workers at its chip plants.

Mr. Kwon said Samsung would discontinue intervention in workers’ compensation lawsuits filed by the victims.  In the past seven years, the company used an army of high-paid lawyers to delay and derail the legal proceedings until the victims and their families were exhausted emotionally and financially.

Mr. Kwon’s apology fell short of promising to withdraw a number of civilian and criminal charges the company has pressed against the victims’ families and SHARPS activists for picketing the company or holding rallies.

“Arbitration Body”

Mr. Kwon’s statement corroborated the proposal made by Sim Sang-jeung, a former labor activist and a lawmaker of the minor Justice Party.  Mr. Kwon promised to compensate the victims directly via an arbitration body that he said was proposed by Ms. Sim and SHARPS.  However, SHARPS is not party to Ms. Sim’s proposal.

Cautious Welcome      

SHARPS cautiously welcomed Mr. Kwon’s statement.  In a statement <Korean> posted on its website, the advocacy group reiterated its call for Samsung to restart negotiations with SHARPS.  The negotiations have been stalled since December 18 of last year.

The following are full English translations of the statements by SHARPS and Mr. Kwon of Samsung [All brackets are added by the translator]:

SHARPS on the May 14 Statement by Samsung

1. We welcome the statement for the following reasons:

—Because Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. admitted that there are “employees [of Samsung] who became ill or died as a result what can be suspected of workplace accidents.”

— Because it admitted that it had been negligent in [addressing] their pain and hardships.

—Because it decided to stop intervention in workers compensation claims [filed by the victims]

—Because it promised to earnestly seek not only ways to compensate the victim but also measures to prevent the recurrence [of industrial accidents.]

2. However, a third, new arbitration body is not part of our proposal, which we have repeatedly clarified on April 14 and 17.  It is regrettable that Samsung claimed that the arbitration body is part of our proposal.

3.  Nevertheless, we expect Samsung will use the statement as its primary step toward a sincere solution to the [occupational disease] issue.

4. As such, we propose the following:

—Restart dialogue, stalled for five months, with SHARPS.

—Accept SHARPS as [formal] negotiator and comply in good faith with our demands.

 

The Statement By Kwon Oh-hyun, vice chairman and CEO of Samsung     

I would like to speak about the issue of leukemia at Samsung.

I would like to announce Samsung’s position regarding the employees who became ill or died as a result of what is suspected to be industrial accidents, their families, SHARPS, and a proposal made [by lawmaker Sim Sang-jeung] in her April 9 press conference.

[Certain] employees who had worked at our workplaces have been suffering from leukemia and other incurable diseases.  Some of them have passed away.

During Samsung’s growth,  countless employees dedicated themselves to working hard for the firm.  Along the way, there were people like them who suffered. This is truly regrettable and heartbreaking.

Also, we were sometimes negligent about the pain and hardships they and their families faced.  We should have solved this matter sooner.  We feel heartbroken for we did not.  We would like to use this opportunity to offer a sincere apology.

We will address this issue in earnest.  We proactively accept the proposal made in an April 9 press conference [by lawmaker Sim], and will pay the victims and their families appropriate compensation.

As proposed, we will discuss with the parties directly involved in the issue and their families to form a third-party arbitration body.  We will follow the terms and coverage of compensation and others decided on by that body.

We would like the families, SHARPS, and lawmaker Sim—the parties to the proposal—to make further proposals to conclude the issue.

Also, we will have an independent expert examine the safety and public health management of our semiconductor plants to implement measures to prevent the recurrence of [similar industrial accidents]

In addition, we will withdraw our third-party intervention in  workers compensation proceedings filed by the victims and their families against KCOMWEL.

We hope our acceptance of the proposal is the opportunity to address the issue, so the pain of the victims and their families can be lessened, if only a little bit.

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