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The funeral altar of Yim Hyeon-woo, the 36-year-old Samsung repairman who died on Sept. 27 of a brain hemorrhage, after putting in an average 60 hours a week since May.
Source: NewsMin

A young contractor of Samsung Electronics’ customer service arm died of what appears to be overwork, after putting in an average 60 hours a week in the past four months since May.

Deadly Peak Season

On Sept. 27, Yim Hyeon-woo, an employee with Daegu Service Co, a contractor for Samsung Electronics Service, died of a brain hemorrhage.  Samsung Electronics Service is a wholly owned customer service subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.

The 36 year-old-repairman worked 52 hours a week at the least and more than 80 hours a week at the most in May-August of 2013, the peak season for electronics repairs, according to his work schedules obtained by independent news weekly Media Today.<Korean>

Throughout May and June, Yim worked on weekends and took only one day off.  He took 30 minutes a day for lunch while visiting tens of homes and offices daily to repair or collect a variety of Samsung electronic products in the city of Daegu, South Korea’s third-largest city.  At each visit, he was required to send a picture of him to his supervisor as proof that he was keeping up with the daily schedule.

Yim could only take time off for medical treatment at the cost of his piecework pay, according to a number of independent-media reports.

Trade Union

Yim’s “death allegedly from overwork” was the direct result of Samsung Electronics’ outsourcing policy.

Samsung Electronics outsources all repair and maintenance work to Samsung Electronics Service.  Samsung Electronics Service in turn directly owns only nine of its 107 repair branches.  The remaining 98 are contractors who hire the most of Samsung’s about 6,000-strong repair staff mainly on a piecework basis.

In August, about 1,600 workers from 64 branches formed a trade union, demanding Samsung Electronics Service to grant them full-time status in the company.  Samsung Electronics Service effectively controls the entire repair network.  It controls pay distribution for contractors and directly assigns jobs to the contract repair personnel.  Also, Samsung Electronic Service regularly audits the finances of its contractors.

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In August, about 1,600 workers from 64 Samsung contractors formed a trade union. Source: Ohmynews.com

For Samsung, All Is Above-Board

In September, South Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labor ruled that Samsung should pay the contract workers overtime.  However, it concluded that the way Samsung outsources repair work does not contravene the law.

The South Korean government’s acquiescence allows Samsung to continuously dump dangerous and dirty work onto small and vulnerable contractors, which in turn pass cost on to an army of contract workers.

In August, SHARPS published a study, revealing harsh working conditions at Samsung Electronics’ local suppliers.

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Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. and its Chinese contractors hire underage workers and force their employees, underage or otherwise, to work excessive overtime in harsh working conditions, China Labor Watch, said in a new report released on Sept. 4.

In China, Samsung has a manufacturing network of a dozen directly owned factories and relationships with 250 contractors.  In May-August, CLW, the New York rights group, conducted undercover investigations into six directly owned factories and two contractors.

At least three directly owned facilities regularly hire underage workers.  At Tianjin Samsung Mobile Display Co., Ltd, Huizhou Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd, and Shenzhen Samsung Kejian Mobile Telecommunication Technology Co., Ltd, each employing anywhere between 500-2,000 workers, workers under 18 years of age are required to do the same work as adults without extra protection or legal recourse.

Many of the children are students seasonally hired from local vocational schools.  Student workers have to pay Rmb800 (U$126) in upfront middleman fees, or about half a month’s wage, to be hired.  Students are encouraged by management and their teachers, who often work as middlemen, to forge their documents to pass as adults.  The illicit practice is also profiled in an investigative report by the independent daily Hankyoreh of Tianjin Samsung Mobile Display. 

Samsung at least admitted that there was a need for the company to have Chinese workers working overtime.  “We partly agree with the report that there are times when workers need to work overtime at some plants, especially when we launch new products or build new manufacturing lines,”  James Chung, a Samsung spokesman, told the Wall Street Journal.

Excessive working hours is common practice at the eight facilities.  Samsung and its suppliers flout a legally mandated 36-hour workweek and force workers to work more than 100 hours in unpaid overtime.

The worst is Tianjin Intops Co., Ltd, a supplier, where each of an all-women army of 1,200 contract workers has to work standing for 11 hours a day to assemble a cellular phone cast every five seconds.  At the peak of the production cycle, they must work up to 150 hours of overtime per month.

On its home turf of South Korea, Samsung employees are among the best paid.  However, Samsung’s negligence of its own workers is also well-documented.  SHARPS has to date profiled 56 workers who died of a variety of types of blood disorder and cancer  which they developed while employed at the company’s production facilities.

During a high-profile patent infringement lawsuit by Apple against Samsung, testimony by a Samsung designer of Smartphone icons, Wang Jeeyeun accidentally revealed how much the world’s largest electronics maker is addicted to the daily sacrifices of its overworking workers.

During the three-month period, in which she developed icons for Galaxy S, Samsung’s tablet, she said, “I slept about two or three hours a night.”  Ms. Wang had to stop breastfeeding her three-month-old infant to keep up with schedule.

CLW’s latest report was in line with its findings a month earlier of child labor at Samsung’s supplier, HEG Electronics in the city of Huizhou.  It dealt a fresh blow to Samsung because the report came out on the heels of an internal audit by Samsung which exonerated HEG of hiring underage labor.

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