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Ministry moves on subcontract workers' safety

The South Korean government will propose a revision bill to ensure the safety of subcontract workers and enforce stronger preventive measures for industrial accidents, a ministry said Monday.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor said they are preparing to propose a revision to the current Industrial Safety and Health Act to better protect subcontract workers from safety accidents.
Members of a union group for part-time workers protest near Guui Station in Seoul on Saturday, calling for workers’ rights to a safe environment. Yonhap
Members of a union group for part-time workers protest near Guui Station in Seoul on Saturday, calling for workers’ rights to a safe environment. Yonhap
The revised bill will be submitted to the National Assembly through a “fast-track” process, which aims to shorten the legislation process to within 10 days, according to officials. The original process takes at least three months. A bill with the same content was proposed during the 19th National Assembly, but was automatically discarded after the former 19th assembly failed to endorse it.

The current law designates specific places at construction sites with the risk of falling, collapsing, falling objects or natural disasters as areas with danger of accidents that should be supervised by main contractors with due safety measures. When a business owner violates the regulation, he or she is subject to imprisonment of less than a year or a fine of up to 10 million won ($8,574).

The revised bill will expand the safety obligations to all business operating sites. The penalty will be fortified with a sentencing of up to five years in jail and a fine of up to 50 million won.

The move came after a spate of fatal industrial accidents last week. A 19-year-old employee of Eunsung PSD, a company that had been subcontracted by subway operator Seoul Metro for screen door maintenance, died on May 28 after being hit by an incoming subway train.

Another four workers died on June 1 after a gas explosion at a subway construction site in the northeastern city of Namyangju. A dozen of the victims were hired by subcontractor Maeil ENC to construct subway rails for POSCO Engineering & Construction.

Amid ongoing discussion to amend the poor working environments of subcontract workers, Seoul Metro said Sunday that about 180 executive officials at a company have turned in their resignations, to claim due responsibility regarding the subway platform accident.

“The company will accept (executive officials’) resignations if they do not come up with fundamental measures to strengthen safety,” said Jeong Su-young, head of Seoul Metro’s Infrastructure Management department during a press conference on Sunday.

The company will go through an organizational reshuffle to increase workforce efficiency and strengthen safety regulations, following the preventive measures announced last week, the operator said.

On Sunday, a lawmaker claimed that the screen door maintenance company Eunsung PSD told Seoul Metro that the company does not have “enough money” to compensate for the death of Kim. According to the opposition The Minjoo Party of Korea’s Rep. Woo Hyung-chan, Seoul Metro is considering providing compensation to Kim’s family and asking for indemnity to Eunsung PSD.

“But there is no legal boundary that Seoul Metro can pay the compensation directly to bereaved Kim, nor can they claim indemnity to Eunsung PSD,” added rep. Woo, urging for a speedy compensation process for the bereaved. The contract for Eunsung PSD with Seoul Metro is set to expire at the end of this month.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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