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SHARPS and labor activists in June picked Amotech, a Samsung supplier, where three workers died of overwork during the first three months of this year.

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd is dumping high-risk jobs into outsourcers, a SHARPS activist said at a conference on August 7.  The world’s largest technology company’s lack of follow-through is helping ensure long working hours, high employee turnover, and negligence in safety measures, making many Samsung contractor facilities dangerous places to work.

“QTS, a Samsung contractor, does not allow workers to open windows at their workplaces to protect the trade secret of Samsung, even though their shops are poorly ventilated,” Kong Jeong-ok, a physician with SHARPS said at the conference on the conditions of workers at Samsung’s contractors hosted by SHARPS in Seoul.

At QTS in the city of Yongin, South Korea, employees, most of them women in their mid-40s and older, put memory chips with solder bumps into high-temperature reflow furnaces  They put the refurbished chips into the cleaning tank to remove impurities and into the chemical ovens to dry them.

The women have to do these high-risk, chemically drenched jobs with bare hands.

The only protective gear provided by the company was disposable masks and plastic gloves.  The gloves are useless because they are too big to use to handle tiny memory chips.  Management tells the employers to wear gas masks when they expect outside inspections.

Officially, QTS workers work from 9am till 6pm.  However, they often work overtime until 9am next day, meaning that they worked a full twenty-four hour shift.

QTS, with about 20-25 on its full-time payroll, seasonally hires up to 70 or more.  A full-timer earns KRW 900,000 (US$810) in base salary a month, plus KRW 800,000 (US$720)-KRW 1 million (US$900) in overtime, compared with South Korea’s per-capita GDP of US$31,700 for 2012.

Low pay and poor working conditions have increased employee turnover.  Only about ten employees have worked at QTS for a multiple number of years.  Among them, four were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010-12. In 2010, one woman employee in her mid-40s, died of lung cancer.

Amotech, another Samsung contractor posted a 93 percent increase in sales in 2012,” said Dr. Kong.  However, the remarkable expansion was the result of Amotech employees’ sacrifices, she added.

Over the course of three months of January to March 2013, three employees died of acute conditions brought on by overwork at the Inchoen, South Korea ceramic chipmaker that makes 45.6 percent of its sales to Samsung, Apple Inc, HTC Corporation, and Lenovo.

In January, an electroplater in his fifties died of acute cerebral infarction.  He passed out after having worked 12 hours a day for days. (His identity is withheld at his family’s request.).

In March, Yim Seung-hyun, 31 years old, died of cerebral hemorrhage after having worked 12 hours a day for 19 months.  Since December 2012, he took only four days off and worked on all weekends.

In the same month, a mid-ranking technician, Kwon Tae-young died. Kwon often worked 15 to 26 hours straight to reduce the defect rates of common mode filters, Amotech’s strategic item, used to reduce the noise levels of Smartphones.

Poor base pay means many Amotech employees are forced to work overtime only to stay afloat.  For January 2013, Yim got only one day off on New Year’s Day.  He worked an average of 12.5 hours a day to take home KRW 1.08 million (US$972) in base salary and KRW1.89 million (US$1,700) in overtime.

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SHARPS on August 7 hosted a conference on working conditions at Samsung contractor facilities.

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