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Archive for November 21st, 2019

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South Korea’s lawmakers, conservative and liberal alike, unanimously pass a bill hampering workers’ ability to petition for workers compensation.

 

South Korea’s legislature all but unanimously approved a controversial amendment to an industrial information law allowing corporations to arbitrarily conceal any information that can be used as evidence for workers compensation petitions.

Samsung’s Amendment

The amendment includes two clauses that encapsulate the recurrent rationales used by Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. against its former employees who seek workers compensation after falling victim to occupational diseases, said Lim Ja-woon, attorney with SHARPS, in an op-ed.

First, the one clause provides that information on core national technologies should not disclosed, but it does not clearly define what constitutes “core national technologies.”  During two separate workers compensation cases in 2017-18, Samsung attempted to defy a court order for the release of chemicals used in chip or LCD production, citing them as “core national technologies.” In the 2018 case, the commerce ministry backed Samsung’s position despite weak legal ground.

In both cases, SHARPS defeated the tech giant.  However, the new clause, which carries prison sentences of up to three years for non-compliance, will make any such win unlikely.

Also, the clause also likely runs counter to an existing one requiring trade secrets to be disclosed to protect life and health, noted Lim.

The other clause enables corporations to file criminal complaints and seek punitive damages for the disclosures of even lawfully acquired industrial information.  The clause, in letters and spirit, is similar to highly noticeable sentences in the first letter Samsung sends to new workers compensation petitioners, said the attorney.

Amid Rising Trade Tensions with Japan

The amendment to the Act on Prevention of Divulgence and Protection of Industrial Technology was pushed through with the speed of light in the country’s notoriously cacophonous National Assembly.  On Aug. 2, 2019, the bill was passed by a margin of 206 vs. four abstentions, only one month after it was finalized.

Even lawmakers of the two minority progressive parties, the Justice and the Minjung parties, voted for the bill, with no public debate.  The government’s own press statement did not make any reference to the two clauses.

“SHARPS did not openly oppose the bill,” said a Justice Party spokesperson in a statement released to the workplace safety advocacy group.  “The regressive clauses were not fully noticed by [the party].”  “It was passed at a time of rising trade tensions with Japan,” said the person.

In a recent court hearing over workers compensation, a Samsung attorney rejected a request for information disclosure, citing the amendment, according to Lim.

The amendment will take effect on Feb. 21, 2020.

 

 

 

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