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The majority of the 56 victims of the blood disorder cluster at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. were vocational high school graduates from poor families in small cities.  They went to work at Samsung in the late 1990s when South Korea boasted one of the world’s highest college enrollment rates, 61 percent.  Before the victims fell to a variety of blood disorders, Samsung, which was on its way to become the world’s largest chipmaker, was their source of pride and opportunity.  On July 9, Hankyoreh 21, one the county’s few independent weeklies, profiled four victims from the small city of Kunsan in a cover story.  The following is a translation of the report [All brackets are added]:           

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The July 9, 2012 issue of Hankyoreh 21

Sitting quietly on the edge of Kum River, the southwestern city of Kunsan was a bustling port city under Japanese colonial rule of 1910-45 when it was a conduit for the Japanese to siphon rice off the Korean peninsula.  The colonial master called the city Kunsan of rice.  In the 1960s-80s, largely left out of South Korea’s fervent industrialization, Kunsan’s wealth declined.  For young girls living in a city whose skyline is still dominated by colonial edifices and floating piers, working at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., was a giant leap forward.

The four former Samsung Electronics employees, Yun Seul –ki and Yi Ah-young,  both 31 years old; Kim Mi-seon, 32 years old; and Chung Ae-jeong, 35 years old, went to the same Kunsan high school.  Yun and Yi are class 2000. Kim is class 1998 and Chung class 1996. They all spent least a year together with one or two of the other girls at Gunsan Girls Commercial High School, perhaps singing together the refrain of their school anthem: “My proud Gunsan Girls Commercial High.” About a decade later, Yun died.  Yi is suffering the aftereffects of surgery. Kim is on her sickbed.  Chung lost her husband to a disease he contracted while employed at Samsung.  Their medical conditions are: severe aplastic anemia; intermediate tumors in the head and neck; multiple sclerosis; and leukemia. It is unlikely that other Gunsan graduates share the bitter fate. Each contracted the disease while working at the Samsung LCD plant in Chonan or the semiconductor lab, and the LCD plant in Kiheung.

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Over the gate of Gunsan Girls Commercial, a banner flies to congratulate recent graduates on their first jobs. Six are employed as operators at a Samsung Mobile Display plant in Chonan. About thirty have jobs at other semiconductor makers.

Even before graduation, the girls left home to partake in production of semiconductors, locally dubbed “the rice of industry.”  In the cleanroom, no speck of dust was allowed.  They stripped off their school uniforms and slipped into dirt-free garments covering themselves from head to toe.  They covered their long or short hair, and their brown eyes were exposed, still sparkling.  The rice of industry began to engulf the young girls from a small and old vocational school.

Yi began work at Samsung in June 1996, about a month later than Yun.  Yi still vividly remembers the day she entered the company fifteen years ago.  For a vocational school girl of a small city, working at the world’s biggest electronics maker was the source of pride.  Without standout academic credentials, one could not land a job at Samsung.  A year prior to her employment, Only 40 out of 100 applicants from her school received employment offers.

Samsung sent interviewers to the school.  Three interviewers interviewed about seven applicants together. “Semiconductor jobs were popular because they paid well, and had good dormitories.  I wanted a Samsung job because I wanted to make a lot of money,” said Yi.  A month later, she got on board the bus sent by Samsung for its in-house training facility.  Only five of her 47-student homeroom class landed Samsung jobs. .

Yi was posted as operator to the chemical vapor deposition process, in which she used chemical gas to add dopants to a pure semiconductor to modify its electrical properties.  Working on a three-daily shift was not easy to manage.  She had skin rashes and even collapsed. “My health got worse very much.  I found it hard to get adjusted to the company,” said Yi.  She resigned as operator in April 2002. The following year, she went to college.

She often became sick for no particular reason.  She felt exhausted, as if falling victim to a severe flu.  “Once I got sick, it lasted a month,” Yi said.  During four months a year in those years, she felt feeble.  She thought it was a tough flu to beat.  She took medicines and saw a doctor.  The illness continued to hound her even after college graduation.

It was the summer of 2009 when she began to see doctors at big hospitals in Seoul. They found intermediate tumor glands in her neck and head.  One of her doctors described them as glands in her nervous system.  “The condition is so rare that there are three patients with it a year,” Yi quoted her doctor as saying. Yi said, “I had the tumors removed quickly.  I suffered facial paralysis.”  The facial paralysis has become less severe, and she now works at a new job.

Yi believes she developed the tumors while employed at the semiconductor plant.  “A senior colleague of mine, who was a line inspector, collapsed with a foaming mouth.  Much later, I came to know that one predecessor had died of leukemia,” she said. “In 2000, when I was an operator, there was a blackout.”  There were concerns about possible chemical leaks during the blackout.  Yi has considered filing a request for workers’ compensation, but she did not file it.  “They don’t recognize even the dead ones.  Why would they grant my request?  I feel fortunate that I got out of there [Samsung] alive.”

Yi had not been in contact with Yun since graduation.  She came to know of the death of Yun, when interviewed by Hankyoreh 21.  “We were dying to work at Samsung.  I didn’t know all ended this way

Yun is the 56th victim of blood disorder clustering in the semiconductor industry as profiled by SHARPS.  She died at a Seoul hospital on June 2.  “I will live in Japan.”  This Yun often said to her mother.  A Kunsan native, Yun wanted to go to college in Japan.  She thought herself Japanese.  Yun was a fan of SMAP, a Japanese teenage pop band.  Thirteen years of struggling with severe aplastic anemia has deterred her dream.

Yun wanted to go to a prep school to improve her chances for college.  However, at the request of her mother, Shin, she went to Gunsan Girls Commercial, a high school whose graduates often land good industry jobs.

In May 1999, ahead of graduation, Yun applied for a position at Samsung.  A month later, she began to work at the LCD plant in Chonan.  Shin was proud of her daughter for working at a big corporation.  Yun was responsible for cutting chemically glazed LCD panels into size.  When Shin asked Yun about her job, she always indifferently said, “I am just a factory girl.”  The mother said, “I did not expect her to work on a blue-collar job at Samsung when she was employed at the company.”

Five months into the job, Yun fell on the factory floor.  She thought it was a flu, the one that got worse.  She did not get better.  Yun was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a condition where bone marrow does not produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells.  Yun, herself a regular blood donor since high school, was an unlikely victim of the disease.  Her long fight against it began.  In 2002, she could nevertheless begin to study Japanese at a local college.

Her condition grew worse.  She stayed home longer, passing time by reading Murakami and other Japanese fiction.  Learning news that a former Samsung employee would receive workers compensation for aplastic anemia, she decided to file the request.  But her time ran out.  She died in May.

Kim is two years senior to Yi and Yun.  In 1997, she began to work as an operator in another LCD plant of Samsung.  She went through what the other two experienced two years sooner.  It was March 2000 when she became sick, about six months apart from Yun.  Kim is under treatment in Seoul for multiple sclerosis and optic neuritis.  Multiple sclerosis, the cause of which is yet unknown, can be caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals and excessive stress.  It damages the myelin sheath, which in turn slows down or blocks messages between the brain and body.  Kim is visually impaired because of the optic neuritis.

“They paid me 10, 000 won (US$10) in stipends after the interview.  I was so happy,” Kim said.  About 100 girls from her class went to work at Samsung’s LCD plants.  “It was during the 1997 financial meltdown [in the country].  There were fewer jobs going around.  I was glad to get selected by a big corporation with good pay,” she added.  She was hired in June 1996 and deployed to a soldering job after months of training.  “At first, I was responsible for soldering taps on LCD panels after cleaning them.  After a year, I was responsible for lead soldering,” she said.

After three years into employment, she became paralyzed on the left side of her body.  She could not lift the left arm anymore.  There is no history in her family of any such condition.

In March 2000, she took medical leave.  Her condition worsening, Kim eventually resigned from the company.  “Mother wanted me to seek workers’ compensation.  I opposed it.” She said. “I believed I could get back to work.  The company said my workers compensation request would not likely be accepted because the illness was caused for personal reasons.”

She went in and out of hospital as the condition of sclerosis fluctuated.  She lost vision in the right eye.  With her left eye, she can barely read large fonts on the computer screen.  Last year, Kim filed a request for workers compensation with the help of SHARPS, which she came to know through news reports.  “I did lead soldering, and air purifiers were often non-functional.  I sometimes wore only a paper mask.  We did not know how hazardous our jobs were,” she added.  She still collects prescriptions every two months.  She regularly has to undergo antibody and blood tests.  “I would have not worked at a semiconductor factory should I have known it was such a place.”

The memory chip industry experienced a great boom in 1995.  The release of Windows 95 boosted prices of memory chips.  Chung, a mother of two, is now a preschool teacher in the city of Siheung.  A Gunsan Girls Commercial graduate, she is a victim of the occupational disease cluster at Samsung. She lost her husband, himself an employee of the company, to leukemia.

Chung followed in the footsteps of her sister, who went to work at Samsung after graduation of the same high school.  “If you did not find a white-collar job in Kunsan, then Samsung is the next on your list,” she said.  In October 1995, Chung was employed as an operator at the plant in Kiheung.   Many of the young girls feared leaving home to work elsewhere.  Samsung’s well-appointed dormitories eased the fears.  “They even considered our conduct records.  They preferred upstanding students without truancy and cutting records.” Chung said.  About 150 graduates including her landed jobs at Samsung.

Three years into Samsung, she met Hwang Min-woong, an engineer, during a company choir practice.  They got married.  In 2004, Hwang was taken to the ER for flulike symptoms.  .He was diagnosed with leukemia.  Nine months later, he died while awaiting marrow donations.  It was ten days after Chung gave birth to their second child.  The company said the disease had nothing to do with Samsung.  She has continued to work at Samsung.   Chung’s story is depicted in A Clean Room.  She helps former Samsung employees to file requests for workers compensation,

On June 27, 2012 afternoon, girls began to pour from the gate of Gunsan Girls Commercial, bursting laughs as any teenager girls would.  Over the gate, a banner flies to congratulate recent graduates on their first jobs.  Six are employed as operators at a Samsung Mobile Display plant in Chonan.  About thirty have jobs at other semiconductor makers.  When asked what they know about working conditions at Samsung, some students answered, “We’ve been talking about it.  It’s dangerous to work there, but Samsung is still Samsung.  They pay well.”

“Samsung used to employ graduates in busloads,” one girl said.  “There are not many openings at Samsung.  They don’t have money either.”  Another concluded, “We came to a commercial high school because we want jobs after graduation.  There are not many jobs going around in Kunsan.”

“There are few well-paying jobs in Kunsan,” school sources said. “The students tend to favor the operator positions.”  Lee, the former homeroom teacher of Yun and Yi, said, “In 1999, after the financial crisis, when jobs were scarce, we found Samsung’s mass hiring encouraging.”

“We did not have any awareness or information about the danger of semiconductor and LCD production,” said assistant superintendent Park.  “It is very deplorable to see my students suffering.”

Leukemia and other cancers don’t require working at Samsung Electronics.  However, it is unusual for a disease to cluster at the same production line of the same plant in the same period.  The working conditions ten years ago at the production line that no longer exists is the point of contention between Samsung and former employees over whether to determine their medical conditions are occupational diseases.  Samsung and the government focus on the now-disintegrated production line, while the victims point to the decrepit machines used on the line.

“We deplore the death of Yun, a former colleague of ours,” said a Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. spokesperson.  However, he categorically denied any relationship between her disease and her job.  “Yun worked for just six months, including four months of apprenticeship.  She was responsible for mechanical operations, which did not require chemical processing.  Pre-employment health screening was not thorough enough to detect the symptoms of her condition,” the spokesperson said.  Countering Samsung, Yi Jong-ran, labor attorney with SHARPS, said: “Chemicals could have entered the air when Yun cut LCD panels.  Aplastic anemia has a short incubation phase and be caused by a short exposure to [hazardous materials].”

Concerning Yi and Kim, the Samsung spokesperson said, “The occurrences of the diseases should be measured against the number of graduates.  It does not appear scientific when you combine two different diseases to create causality because the two former employees went to the same school.”  Asked to measure the occurrences in a particular place, during a particular process and in a particular period, he answered that it made little sense.

Samsung proposed a public examination.  “SHARPS disclosed 137 workers whom it says have come out.  Their identities are not disclosed, and they came down to a disease at differing points of time. If who they are, what diseases to which they came down and what line of production they were are disclosed, we can examine their cases together,” said the spokesperson.  Says attorney Lee, “The Samsung Health Research Institute [a health research arm of Samsung Electronics] has proposed dialogue.  However, Samsung used money to stop the workers from requesting workers compensation and to drop lawsuits.  They did not do anything to build trust.  What dialogue is possible, given the situation?”

On June 14, Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee paid respects at the mortuary of four Samsung C&T employees who were killed in a helicopter crash in Peru.  He told the conglomerate to revamp safety measures for Samsung employees working overseas.  There are fifty-six mortuaries the tycoon passed by.  A lack of dirt, all white, is not necessarily clean.  The girls’ dirt-free suits were dreadfully white.

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New victims from other companies

Recently SHARPs was able to get some information of several cancer victims of different companies from Samsung.

One of them is Kim Jin-ki, 38 year-old male worker of Magna-chip semiconductor in Cheongjoo City, which used to be a part of Hynix Semiconductor.

The press conference in front of KCOMWEL Cheongjoo office on Sep 8. The woman in center is Yim Jinsook, the wife of Kim, with the picture of Kim.

He used to work for 14 years as a maintenance engineer of an ion implanter (the facility for implantation of ion as Arsenic or Phosphorus into the silicon wafer), being exposed to various chemicals and radiation. He got leukemia last year, and several years before he got a thyroid disease too. He died on May 28, due to the graft-versus-host-reaction after a bone marrow transplantation. He had been healthy before he got the diseases from his workplace. There is no familial history of cancer in his parents and his two brothers.

SHARPs with some local activists and a labor attorney prepared his application for workers’ compensation. We made a press conference together on September 8, when his wife applied for compensation to the government.

The second victim we discovered was from the medium-sized company, Kijoo industrial Co. in Incheon City, one of the suppliers of LG and Samsung, manufacturing PCB for those big companies.

The victim’s name is Park Sung Chul, born in 1977 in China. His family used to be the “Chosun-jok”, the Korean people in China, and he recently came back to Korea and got the new nationality as a South Korean.

But he and all his family have been living as ‘migrant’ workers. That’s why Park who had graduated university of economics had to work as a blue collar worker, in the cleansing and plating process using various chemicals.

After three years of work, he got leukemia. The heart-breaking story is he had given up further treatment after three times of chemotherapy. He had been recommended bone marrow transplantation, but he refused all kinds of therapy… due to the lack of money… The family of migrant workers was too poor to support all the treatment. So he had been lying in his home under his old mother’s care, and died on September 22.

His uncle had tried to find out someone who can help them for workers’ compensation, and through a local NGO he could meet the Korean Metal Workers Union. On August 10, Korean Metal Workers Union put in a collective compensation application of many cancer victims including Park. His cancer and death show all the typical problems in workers’ claiming their right to safety and health.

SHARPs activities

The poster for the website of Bahn-dahl 2011. You can see the faces doing 'Ho~' on the left.

SHARPs has been making a concentrated series of public activities under that name every year, at the end of July. In the Korean language, the abbreviation of that name is “Bahn-Dahl” which has the same pronunciation as “half-moon”. So  the symbol of these actions is the half-moon.

This year, we’ve changed the Bahn-Dahl into six weeks of action, under the slogan of “Ho~”.

The “Ho~” means the motion of blowing a breath, usually to cool down hot food for child or to reduce pain of a wound. It can be used when people try to comfort pain of others, both physically and mentally. This slogan was made for waking up the heart of solidarity that people have within themselves, and for making a space for us to tell them what is the real pain of the victims and what must be done to relieve it.

We will gather signatures demanding;

1. to compensate the victims right now (and accept and follow the court decision and withdraw the appeal),

2. to disclose all the information. Especially, the government agencies like OSHRI in KOSHA must reveal their research results according to the law on public organizations’ disclosuree of information. Also we are demanding the right to participate in the relevant research.

3. and to take the responsibility on the part of the government and the company. Especially, the government must make   to improve the working environment to guarantee workers’ safety and health, covering all the electronic sector.

Bahn-Dahl was begun on September 21 in Suwon city where the major Samsung semiconductor factories are located. Off-line activities of Bahn-Dahl is mainly a candle-light rally once a week with some cultural performances like songs, dances, and short movies, at Busan, Suwon, Seoul, Cheonan, and Cheongju cities.

On-line activities include internet petition-signing to a demand letter, which will go on till October and finally be made into a formal protest letter to the government and Samsung.

Here are some photos of the first Bahn-Dahl in front of Suwon Station

The Lawsuits

The first group of five leukemia and lymphoma victims have filed the lawsuit against government’s refusal to compensate; all the cases went to the high court on July 14, and now are in the course of preparing documents.

The second group of victims in the lawsuit is composed of four victims with different diseases like brain tumor (Han Hyekyoung, Samsung LCD), aplastic anemia (You Myoungwha, Samsung semiconductor), multiple sclerosis (Lee Heejin, Samsung semiconductor), and malignant brain cancer (Lee Yoonjeong, Samsung semiconductor); they are each in the course of court processes. Two of them, You Myoungwha and Lee Yoonjeong, are from the same department of Burn-in test in Samsung semiconductor factory at Onyang City.

The press conference of second group lawsuit is at the Seoul administrative court. (from the left) Han Hyekyoung (brain tumor, Samsung LCD), her mother, two lawyers, You Youngjong, the father of You Myounghwa (aplastic anemia, Samsung semiconductor), Jeong Heesoo, the husband of Lee Yoonjeong (brain cancer, Samsung semiconductor).

The Victims

At present, SHARPs has gathered the information of about 150 victims, among which there are around 50 deaths. The exact number needs to be calculated and updated again.

The number who have applied for national workers’ compensation through SHARPs is 21, including one Magna-chip worker. Of these 21 cases, 18 of them have been decided by KCOMWEL  to NOT be compensated, and others are still in the process of decision.

Lee Yoon-jeong, who had been diagnosed with malignant brain cancer in 2010 and been sentenced to be able to live only one year by the doctor, fell again recently. Her cancer couldn’t be removed fully. She gets chemotherapy again now, but the prognosis doesn’t seem to be good. We are praying for her survival with the least suffering. Her age is 31 now.

Han Haekyoung, the severely disabled women after removal of a huge tumor from her cerebellum since 2005, has been hospitalized in ‘Green Hospital’ for free to get rehabilitation treatment. However she and her mother have been suffering from poverty because none of them can work for money. SHARPs has been supporting the least money for their life every month for more than two years, by collecting money from many nameless contributors.

As the number of victims becomes bigger, the types and depth of pain of them which must be shared by the whole society become more serious. Many of the victims and their families need either economical or psychological support, or both.

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In a blow to Samsung Electronics, a court ruled yesterday that the deaths of two employees at Samsung’s semiconductor plant should be considered an industrial accident and that Samsung should compensate their families accordingly.

The two workers died of leukemia, and their families filed for industrial accident compensation with Korean Workers’ Compensation and Welfare (KWCW) three years ago, claiming their illness had been caused by exposure to harmful elements at the plant.

But KWCW refused the claim, saying it saw no direct link between leukemia and the semiconductor plant. That prompted the families to file a lawsuit in January of last year.

The Seoul Administrative Court said in a ruling yesterday: “Although it is unclear exactly how Hwang and Lee caught leukemia, it can be construed that their exposures to dangerous chemicals and radiation were catalysts, at the very least. Thus it’s safe to conclude there is a link between leukemia and the workplace.”

The court added that research by the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency proves that workers at chip facilities have higher risk of cancers of the lymphatic system and leukemia, which shows environmental factors had an effect on their diseases.

But the court did not acknowledge such a link for two other workers and a family member of a late worker, citing a lack of evidence.

Samsung said it plans to appeal. A Samsung official told Yonhap, “The ruling goes against the results of investigations by a state-approved organization on semiconductor plants’ occupational environment,” adding that it will soon have results from another independent study.

The civic group Banollim, formed to protect rights of semiconductor workers, claims 20 workers at the plant suffered from leukemia or cancer, with nine deaths since 1998.

Samsung maintains that there are no such risks at its plant, citing an investigation by the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency in 2007 and 2008, which concluded it’s unlikely that the plant caused the diseases.

In June, Samsung said that it commissioned an independent, yearlong safety study to examine health risks at its semiconductor plant, which will be led by Environ, an environment and health consultancy, and carried out with input from some 20 academic experts.

By Kim Hyung-eun [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

(original article: http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2937990)

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Message to readers from SHARPs:

On 23 June, the final decision of the Seoul Administrative court on the lawsuit raised by five blood cancer victims in Samsung semiconductor factories in South Korea was announced.

The judge concluded that two cases of leukemia in workers who had been operators in Giheung factory, Hwang Yumi and Lee Sookyoung, can be regarded as related to the working conditions, even though there is no concrete evidence of expsure to carcinogen.

And the judge accepted almost all the arguments of the plaintiffs on the work-relatedness.

So we, SHARPs, welcome this decision of the court, but we cannot but emphasize the limitation of it.

The explanation of the court on their decision of not accepting the other three cases as occupational diseases still show a kind of serious limitation.

We will point those things out clearly as soon as possible when we get the document of final decision, and continue to fight to overcome those limitations for the right of workers.

Please share this good news with many people, and send some soludarity message to us, the victims and the activists of SHARPs, who decided to fight together until all the victims  can achieve their right to their health!

SHARPs

Following are related media reports:

Court orders compensation for Samsung employees who died of leukemia

(from Korea Herald)

SEOUL, June 23 (Yonhap) — A Seoul court ordered compensation for the families of two young Samsung Electronics employees who died of leukemia, recognizing for the first time a link between leukemia and working in a computer chip-making line.

The Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of the families, who requested the court annul the Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Services’ 2009 decision not to pay compensation and funeral expenses for the deaths. The state-run worker welfare agency delivered the decision, refusing to acknowledge their deaths as workplace disasters.

The latest ruling reversed the agency’s decision, acknowledging the influence of the working conditions at Samsung Electronics on the workers’ deaths.

“Although the cause of the employees’ leukemia has yet to be determined clearly on a scientific basis, it is presumable that their constant exposure to toxic chemicals and ionizing radiation had caused or, at least, expedited the illness,” a panel of judges said. “It is fit to say there is a link between their leukemia and their careers.”

One of the two female workers, surnamed Hwang, died in 2007 at the age of 22 due to acute myeloid leukemia after being diagnosed with the illness in 2005 following her two years of work at a production line, based in Gyeonggi Province, for wafers used to make semiconductors.

The second employee, surnamed Lee, had a 10-year career at the same factory before dying of the same type of leukemia in 2006 at the age of 30.

“Given that they carried out cleaning duties on unautomated production facilities at the most worn-out place of the No. 3 bay of the No. 3 line, they seemed to have been exposed to a greater influence of toxic materials,” the judge panel said, referring to the same spot they both worked at.

Similar lawsuits against the agency and the company are expected to follow the court decision, which is the first to tie working conditions at the world’s largest memory chip maker to employee deaths.

Meanwhile, the administrative court dismissed three similar requests by the family of another dead worker and two former employees, each suffering from lymphoma and leukemia.

The court did not acknowledge the work-illness link in the cases of the two ailing people and the husband of the dead woman, who all worked at different production lines.

Samsung, which has strongly denied that its production lines pose risks of cancers, refused to accept the Seoul court’s ruling.

“The ruling shows different results from previous investigations conducted by a state agency,” the company’s spokesman Park Chun-ho said by phone. “As the ruling is not final, we will try to clear suspicions through continuing trials.”

He added that Samsung will announce this summer the result of a one-year investigation of semiconductor lines that’s currently under way by a group of overseas experts.

(original article at: http://www.koreaherald.com/national/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20110623000960)

 

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The company initially ignored four suicide attempts by the same worker without taking action

By Jeon Jin-sik

Ninety-seven days. The chrysanthemums were a faint yellow with their heads dropped limply. The season changed from bitter cold to spring landscapes. At the viewing room for a young man who wilted away like the flowers, there was merely candlelight.

At the viewing room in Soonchunhyang University Cheonan Hospital in South Chungcheong Province early Sunday morning, family members of the late Kim Ju-hyeon were just packing up their things. Kim, an employee at the Tangjeong factory of Samsung Electronics in Asan, South Chungcheong Province, took his own life on Jan. 11 by jumping from the thirteenth floor of his dormitory. His suicide came 373 days after he joined the company with the congratulations of his family.

Contending that Kim took his own life due to depression from excessive working hours and stress, the family members demanded an apology from the company and measures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. They also claim that the company ignored no fewer than four previous suicide attempts by Kim without taking any appropriate measures on the morning of the incident.

“Being a worker for Samsung is not only a good thing,” said father Kim Myeong-bok 56, wiping away tears. “It was the first time I understood there was a world like this.”

A notebook confirmed to be Kim’s after the incident includes sentences such as “twelve hours of work = standard” and “one year and I’m dead.”

The record of the emergency care center at Soonchunhyung University Cheonan Hospital, which examined Kim’s body on the day of his death, includes phrases about “depression” and “references to suicide.” Samsung has refused to acknowledge this evidence that it knew about Kim’s suicide attempts.
Kim Myeong-bok and Samsung Electronics representatives signed an agreement on Apr. 15 that included a company apology and pledge to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

“I had no idea it would be so hard getting this single sheet of paper,” Kim said.

On the same day, the bereaved family members withdrew a January petition to the Cheonan branch of the Ministry of Employment of Labor asking for special labor oversight at Samsung Electronics, which the company demanded as part of its terms for signing the agreement.

Kim’s family members paid a visit Sunday to the dormitory where he had lived, but were unable to stay for even ten minutes due to control measures from the company. Following Kim’s cremation at Cheonan Memorial Park, the family plans to keep the container with his ashes at their home in Incheon for the time being.

“We will monitor to see whether the measures to prevent reoccurrence are properly implemented,” said Lee Jong-ran, a labor attorney with Banollim, a human rights and health watchdog for semiconductor workers.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

Original source article at: http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/473516.html

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Han Hye-gyoung, former Samsung worker, suffering from a brain tumour

Han Hye-kyeong, a 33-year-old Samsung Electronics liquid crystal display (LCD) plant employee suffering from a brain tumor, left, says Thursday at a news conference held at the Seoul Central District Court, “Samsung Electronics management should apologize to the victims.”

Han worked soldering circuit boards for six years and argued, “We manufacturing workers also have a right to know about how bad the toxic materials are.”

Four victims of occupational disease in Samsung Electronics plants including Han filed an administrative lawsuit against the Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service (KComWel) as the KComWel rejected their request for medical treatment due to industrial accidents.

On that day, Banollim, a civic organization for semiconductor plant workers’ health and human rights, released a report detailing the rate of occupational disease for employees of Samsung Electronics and Samsung Electro-Mechanics. According to the report, of the 120 workers who notified the organization of their disease since November of 2007, 56 reported contracting cancer of the blood forming system such as leukemia. Brain tumor accounted for eight, followed by aplastic anemia at 6, breast cancer at 5 and skin cancer at 4.

(Photo by Kim Myoung-jin, Story by Hwang Chun-hwa)

Original article at:

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_entertainment/472048.html

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Korean people like the number “three”.  

In Korea, when we fail or are disappointed, we encourage ourselves quoting a common saying “don’t give up until the third trial”.

The funeral usually takes three days. Even though I don’t know the exact historical base, but we feel the “three” as a complete, comfortable number.

However, today is the ninetieth day from Joohyun’s death. He was twenty-five years old when he entered Samsung LCD as an engineer. His family still remembers how much he was happy to be a “Samsung-man”.

78th day of picketting in front of the plant - Joohyun's father

But Joohyun’s dream was totally destroyed.

Joohyun had suffered from skin disease due to chemicals which he could not know even the names of. So he had to move from the production line into a material supplying department.

But as before, he had to work more than 12 hours a day. He had to go to work whenever he got a call, even on holidays.

Also he was totally isolated  in his dormitory. There was no one with whom he could talk about because all the room mates had different work shift schedules. Moreover, more than three hundreds of cameras were watching everywhere to prevent workers assemblying.

Finally he got depression.

During the sick leave for two months, he looked to overcome his illness. But as the day to return to work was coming, he became irritable and anxious again.

A few days before the end of his sick leave, Joohyun visited the company to get counseling. After coming back from the company, he told his family that he should return to work, in the production line again. There was no other choice but to return to work – if he refused, he must quit his job.

52th day protesting at Samsung HQ - Joohyun's sister

The day was the first day of returning to work. Joohyun couldn’t sleep at all. He wandered here and there in the dormitory, and all his activities were recorded by hundreds cameras – even his four attempts to jump to his death.

Where is the justice?

Joohyun’s family have been demanding Samsung to apologize and take responsible action, because both Joohyun’s depression and death were not just individual problems.

According to the law, the company should:

– not force workers to work such a long time

– not force a sick worker to work in ain improper job

– guarantee the safety of workplaces and dormitories

– prevent workers’ physical and mental illness from working condition

So the family asked the local office of Ministry of Labor to investigate Joohyun’s working conditions, and to the police to investigate what had happened on the very day of Joohyun’s death.

At first, the response from both governmental organizations were the same: silence and ignorance. To tell a long story briefly, it took 90 days for them to do what they must do.

Recently, the local office of MOL have found a few illegal practices of Samsung, a small but clear evidence that can show the working conditions in Samsung plants are not different from that of a sweatshop. Finally, they will send the documents to the public prosecution office tomorrow.

That’s the reason why the family of Joohyun could not carry out his funeral until now. They just want to see where the justice is. And it has taken 90 days from his death…

84th protest visit to the Ministry of Labor

Today, Joohyun’s father told me:

“I think this is a new beginning. My family have already been tired so much, but we can’t stop here. We must watch the prosecutor. I told my wife and daughter that we must keep fighting, and that don’t forget what we have been demanding – our demand is that Samsung must apologize and take their responsibility for my son’s death.”

April 20 will be the 100th day from Joohyun’s death.

Let’s demand Samsung to get responsibility.

Let’s demand the Korean government to do their duty to watch the company and to punish its illegal practice.

Let’s add our voices to this lonely struggle of family who lost their youngest one.

Please think and act whatever you can add your voices to this struggle before the 100th day is coming.

Justice for all can’t be achieved without justice for the weakest people.

In solidarity,

SHARPs
For an earlier account of the suicide and later struggles of Joohyun’s family, see this previous post.

written by Jeong-ok Kong  (+82-10-9140-6249, anotherkong@gmail.com)
Supporters for Health And Rights of People in Semiconductor Industry (SHARPs)

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