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On Oct. 31, Choi Jong-beom, a 32-year-old Samsung contractor, killed himself in protest over his employer’s harsh labor control. He is survived by his wife and a 10-month-old daughter. Source: SHARPS

The supply chain of Samsung Electronics is shrouded in a series of avoidable deaths as two electronics repairmen died within about 30 days apart, after the world’s largest technology company stepped up pressure on its after-sale network in a move to crush an ongoing unionization drive and to retain its chokehold on labor discipline.

Choi Jong-beom, a repairman, was found dead in his car on Oct. 31.  He died of carbon monoxide poisoning as evidenced by consumed charcoals found in the vehicle. Choi was a contractor for Samsung TSP, an after-sale service provider of Samsung Electronics Service, the wholly owned unit of Samsung Electronics.  The following is the suicide notes that the 31-year-old worker texted to his co-workers and union leaders:

This is Choi Jong-beom.  Please capture [the screenshot] of this text message [for me]. It’s been excruciating for me to work at Samsung Electronics Service.  It’s pained me because I was starving.  It’s been excruciating for me to see others suffering [like I am].  I could not act the way [the late labor activist] Chon Tae-il did, but I made the choice.  I wish I could help anyway.

Chon Tae-il was a 22-year-old worker who set himself afire in 1970 in protest of rampant violations of labor law in the South Korean garment industry of that era.

Death and Suicide

Choi’s death came on the heels of the tragedy of Yim Hyeon-woo, the 36-year-old Samsung repairman who died in late September of an overwork-caused brain hemorrhage.  In the four months leading to his death, Yim worked spent an average of 60 hours a week repairing Samsung products at homes and offices.

Apologies and Smearing

In a rare move, Samsung Electronics Service expressed regret over Choi’s death Nov. 1.  However, its contractor—and Choi’s employer—Samsung TSP quickly smeared him.  Samsung TSP CEO Yi Je-keun said Choi, an employee of four years, took home an average of KRW 4.1 million (U$3,900) and KRW 5 million (U$4,700) during peak season.

A survey by the independent daily Hankyeoreh <Korean> belied CEO Yi’s allegations. According to the newspaper, for September this year,  a Samsung repairman of six years working in Pohang, the city about the size of but richer than Chonan where Yim worked, took home KRW 1.05 million (U$980) after out-of-pocket expenses and costs.  The take-home pay is slightly higher than a legally mandated subsistence level of KRW1.01M (U$942).

Shifting Costs

Both Yim and Choi were contractors who worked for regional contractors for Samsung Electronics Service, to which Samsung Electronics outsources all after-sale services such as repairs and maintenance of its garden-variety of electronics goods.  Samsung Electronics Services 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.

The multi-layered supply chain enables the global electronics giant  to ruthlessly pass costs on to the bottom of the hierarchy.  Choi, his wife, and their ten-month-old daughter did not literally starve because his pay managed to stay above the subsistence level.  However, Choi often skipped meals to keep up with schedule which often ran from 7am through 9pm in peak season.

Crushing the Union

Choi’s death came amid rising tensions between Samsung and its 6,000-strong repair staff.  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 has since been transferring jobs from unionized branches to non-unionized ones, cutting the unionists’ already meager wages.

Management’s harassment played the role in Choi’s suicide.  A few days before his death, Samsung TSP CEO Yi threw expletives at Choi over a flimsy customer complaint against him.

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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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One of the latest of a long string of victims of anti-union South Korean conglomerate Samsung, is Samsung LCD facility engineer Kim Joo-hyun, who died by committing suicide on January 11, 2011. He was 25 years old (26 in the Korean way of counting age). Since then it has been more than 50 days. His family – his parents and his elder sister – have been postponing the burial of Joo-hyun’s body until now, as expression of their expectation of justice. Joo-hyun’s body remains at the morgue.

The family’s first demand is an apology. Because the day that he fell from the 13th floor of his Samsung worker dormitory, there were 300 cameras around the dormitory, recording everything.

Just after his death, his father went to the police and they showed him an edited video. They explained to him that he had fallen himself, and that thus it was suicide, not murder. The family spent 10 more days, trying to get the raw, unedited footage of the surveillance video. And they found that actually, he had tried four times to jump. The first two times, he tried and gave up himself, returning to his room. But the third time, when he was at the edge of the balcony on the 13th floor, he was found by another person in the dormitory. That person called the Crisis Help Centre (an office inside Samsung), and then 3-4 men came and persuaded him and escorted him to go back to his room on the 6th floor. But inexplicably, after talking with him a few minutes, the men left the room, leaving him there – alone. After another 10 minutes, Joo-hyun came out – and succeeded in jumping and falling to his death.

After realizing this from the raw videos, the family asked:

1)   Why did the company let him try repeatedly?

2)   Why did the men leave Joo-hyun alone?

3)   Why did they not even call his family or other friends? Joo-hyun had his cellphone.

But Samsung until now has given no answer.

The family’s targets are Samsung, the police and the Ministry of Labor. Kim Joo-hyun worked 12-15 hours a day. He couldn’t rest even on his holidays. He would get calls from the factory to come to work, as if he was on call (though his job is not of an on-call nature). He could not sleep or rest enough. He only visited his hometown one to two times a month, sometimes even only once in two months.

His suicide can be considered suicide from overwork – karo-jisatsu in Japanese, something which can be legally compensated in Japan.

Joo-hyun’s hardship at Samsung

Joo-hyun had been at Samsung for about one year. He had joined Samsung in November 2009 to work as a facility engineer in the fab (fabrication) department of Samsung LCD factory; he was to keep the machines running smoothly.

He had severe skin problems and signs of depression by the time he committed suicide. Just a month or two after he began work in the ‘clean room’, he began to get mild symptoms of atopic dermatitis (like eczema), but it soon became very severe, especially on the side of his legs. When he showed his painful legs to his father in July, his father could see the top layer of skin was very damaged, and even discharging some liquid. It was very itchy and painful for Joo-hyun. He finally requested to change his job duties, and was re-assigned to another location and job in the factory. But in the new department also, he got severely stressed. The supervisors abused him, especially looking down on him for his education level, as he was a graduate of a two-year college.

Moreover, from the beginning of his job, even when he had been working in the clean room, he was forced to write a 20-page report immediately the day after, if there was ever any mistake or damage to the equipment. Thus, even after working extremely long hours and while suffering from skin damage and abuse from superiors at the workplace, he would have to go home and stay up to write the 20-page report. The treatment of workers in the factory was like towards soldiers, or children – typical of many Samsung factories, and apparently of many electronics factories, even in China and Taiwan.

Family and supporters protest

Since a few days after Joo-hyun’s death, Joo-hyun’s family members have been picketing every morning in front of the Samsung LCD factory; they have been doing so for more than 40 days. They also picket near the dormitory, usually in the afternoon, but have not been allowed to go inside anymore. The family and supporter have also recently begun to picket one hour a day during the week, in front of Samsung Headquarters.

SHARPs and KCTU have also written to and protested to the government and police to demand a thorough investigation. The sad death of young Joo-hyun is only one in a long string of tragic deaths of young Samsung workers in South Korea.

Monday, February 28, 2011, was the 49th day since the death of Joo-hyun. It is the day when it is traditionally believed that a soul will return to heaven. The family of Joo-hyun and their supporters conducted a ceremony at Chun-an Station square, to commemorate Joo-hyun’s death and call for the public to join in demanding Samsung take responsibility.

Samsung’s non-response

Strangely (or not), Samsung has kept silent in response to the family’s pleas. Yet every morning at 8 a.m., and steadily in rotating shifts until 10 p.m., a man can be found keeping the family in surveillance at the funeral hall where Joo-hyun’s funeral had been held.

Samsung and LG’s LCD factories

Having a dormitory for workers is not very common in Korea. Yet Samsung built a huge dormitory which houses at least several hundred workers.

Just 8 days earlier, another Samsung worker had committed suicide, jumping from another place in the dormitory. She was 23 years old. In the Samsung dormitory, an apartment has three rooms, and three workers stay in each room. The number of apartments per floor is not exactly known, but there are at least 13 floors.

It is quite possible that suicides have been happening in other factories such as in LG. However LG’s main workforce is dispatch (temporary) workers, and they do have a union, at least in form. On the other hand, Samsung’s main workforce is regular (formal) workers, and Samsung is adamantly anti-union. Samsung workers thus usually work longer, generally expecting to work for their life in the company.  But with no way to handle the grievance between union and company, the family must appeal to the public. In spite of the public appeals, Samsung has remained unresponsive – only making itself appear more culpable.

Samsung workers should be happy and enjoying their work for a great brand and pride of the nation, but instead they have been suffering and dying in increasing numbers, shushed by the company and even ignored by government authorities. We appeal to the public who reads this blog, to let more people know about what happened to Kim Joo-hyun, as well as the others whose stories have been shared here. Only through such support and solidarity can the small Davids of Samsung worker victims fight against the Goliath of anti-union Samsung conglomerate and the South Korean government for justice.

We urge you to leave your messages of condolence and solidarity to the grieving family of Kim Joo-hyun in the comments. We will translate them and share with his family.

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As workers streamed out of the building for lunch at noon on Thursday, three women stood in front of the head office of Samsung Electronics in Seoul’s Seocho neighborhood holding a funeral portrait and wailing. The women are the mother, older sister, and aunt of Kim Ju-hyeon, a worker at the company’s Tangjeong LCD complex who committed suicide in his dormitory on Jan. 11. Kim was 25.

Kim Jeong, the elder sister of Kim Ju-hyeon, holds brother’s portrait in a request to speak with a representative in front of the Samsung Electronics headquarters in Seoul. (Photo: Lim Ji-sun)

Thursday marked one week since the bereaved family members, who had previously issued their calls for an investigation in front of the Tangjeong complex in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, assumed their positions in front of the head office in Seoul. Kim’s older sister Jeong, 28, said, “We came to Seoul after the people at the Tangjeong complex told us, ‘It is out of our hands now, go tell the head office,’ but nobody will meet with us.”

Samsung positioned employees to physically prevent Kim’s family members from entering the building. The same scene has been repeated for a full week, with dozens of men positioned at the entrance to the main building to block the bereaved family members.

Shockingly, the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) has also been silent to their demands for an investigation. On Feb. 28, the 49th day since Kim’s death, the ministry notified them of a decision not to disclose Samsung Electronics’ employment regulations, explaining that they were Samsung’s “trade secrets.”

This decision has been called unprecedented even by those within MOEL.

“The employment regulations are a document that is made well-known to all workers, clearly specifying their working conditions and so forth,” said a MOEL official. “I cannot fathom how this could be a trade secret.”

“In my eight years as a labor attorney, I have never seen the Ministry of Employment and Labor refuse to disclose a company’s employment regulations,” said Lee Jeong-ran, a labor attorney with the group Banollim, a civic organization that advocates for the health and human rights of workers in the semiconductor industry. “The decision not to disclose the regulations is evidence that the Ministry of Employment and Labor is assigning itself the role of Samsung’s puppet,” Lee added.

Samsung Electronics stated, “[The employment regulations] are designated internally as something to be kept confidential from the outside.”

MOEL also said that no data exists on suicides and declined to disclose the findings of Kim Ju-hyeon’s special health evaluation, on the grounds that it was “under investigation.”

Kim, who began work as an equipment engineer on Samsung Electronics’ LCD color filter production line in January 2010, jumped to his death from the 13th floor of his dormitory. He had been suffering from stress due to workdays lasting over 12 hours, as well as a skin disease of unknown cause. Fifty days after his death, no funeral has yet been held.

Banollim and other groups that have battled Samsung Electronics over occupational leukemia cases designated the third week of March as “memorial week for workers who have died from semiconductor and electronics industry accidents.” They plan to hold rallies during the week at sites such as Seoul Station and the area near the main offices of Samsung.

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

Original article at: http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/466463.html

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