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Industrial accident bill passes assembly despite brawl


National Assembly (Yonhap)
National Assembly (Yonhap)

The National Assembly on Friday passed a bill to enhance employer liability in industrial accidents, amid persistent backlash from business circles.

The corresponding bill was laid out to the parliamentary plenary session in the afternoon and obtained 164 votes out of the 266 lawmakers attending, while 44 dissented and 58 abstained.

Under these new enhanced rules, employers are to face a minimum jail sentence of one year or a maximum fine of 1 billion won ($915,751), should a deathly industrial accident occur. The company will separately face a maximum fine of 5 billion won. Also, both the top executive and the company may face punitive damages of up to five times.

While the law is to take effect a year from legislative notice, a grace period will be applied to small-sized businesses with five or less employees -- reflecting the latest suggestion from the Ministry of SMEs and Startups.

The exceptive clause, however, has been raising concerns as it is these small-sized businesses that are most vulnerable to industrial accidents.

Of the 206 people who died from industrial accidents in 2019, 164 or 79.6 percent were workers at SMEs with fewer than 50 staff members. Small business units with less than 5 employees accounted for 42 deaths, or 20.4 percent.

Pointing to such reality, families of deceased industrial accident victims and the progressive minority Justice Party have been urging for a swift passage of the bill, blaming political parties for “sitting on the bill.”

Business groups, in contrast, have been protesting and saying that the bill in question is excessive and that it may be replaced by other industrial safety policies.

The Federation of Construction Associations issued a statement Friday, after the parliamentary legislative committee passed the bill, saying that it feels “helpless” over what it saw as a forceful progress of a disputed agenda.

Earlier, leading business groups repeatedly voiced their disapproval against the multiple regulations to weigh upon business operators.

“We request that ‘poisonous clauses’ be removed from the current industrial accident bill, so as to reflect the actual feedback of the business circles,” said Korea Enterprises Federation Chairman Sohn Kyung-shik in his meetings with key party officials. Sohn is also the chairman of conglomerate CJ Group.

“The priority is to enhance the country’s relatively stalled preventive measures, not to add another set of restrictions and sanctions for employers.”

For instance, the KEF asserted that a serious industrial accident should be defined in further details, such as one that that involves “several” deaths on a repeated number of cases. Also, the mandatory preventive measures of the employer should be stipulated more precisely and employers who have duly performed their supervisory duties should be exempt from sanctions, it added.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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