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.
About 400 riot police scuffled with about 100 unionists for two hours to snatch Yeom’s body.
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.
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.
The following are full translations of Yeom’s notes. All brackets [ ] are added.
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].
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.