The ruling Democratic Party of Korea convened a meeting Wednesday on the “Kim Yong-gyun Act,” a law named after a subcontract worker tragically killed in an industrial accident, to announce measures to give permanent job positions to subcontractor workers of power plants. The gist of the plan is to establish a single public institution to integrate the tasks of five power generator companies encompassing fuel, environment, facilities, and operation, thereby hiring subcontract workers as regular employees. This will make 2,266 subcontract workers permanently employed in the public sector, and a discussion will begin to put 5,300 workers in facility repairing positions on regular payroll.
Following the agreement between the government, the ruling party, and the victim’s family, Kim’s funeral, which had been postponed for about two months, will be held at last starting today. Kim died while checking equipment at a power plant in Taean, South Chungcheong Province, on December 11. After the accident, it was revealed that the victim, who had been employed only for three months, was deployed to a highly dangerous work division without undergoing a proper safety training. While the regulation stipulates that more than two workers must team up for checkups, the victim fell prey to the tragedy while working alone. At the facility in question, a total of 12 workers have died over the past 10 years, and all of them were subcontract workers, and it has come to light that Korea Western Power, the original contractor, has earned itself an “accident-free business” certificate and a financial reward as well.
South Korea, where 10 out of every 100,000 workers are dying of industrial accidents, is one of the highest mortalities among the OECD member states. In the European Union member states, the mortality rate is one fifth of it, two out of every 100,000. This is a disgrace for South Korea, which became the seventh economy to join the 30-50 club, a group of countries with per capita GDP of more than 30,000 U.S. dollars and populations over 50 million, last year. South Korea must make a multifaceted effort to rid itself of the infamous label as the “country of industrial accidents.”
The revised Industrial Safety and Healthcare Act, which was passed by the policymakers late last year, is only the starting point. The truth finding committee, upon which the government and the ruling party agreed, will help identify the structural issues behind Kim’s accident, but it remains to be seen whether establishing a new public entity will dispel the scourge of industrial accidents. Making adjustments for workers with drastically different wage levels is likely to lead to yet more problems, potentially depriving private contractors of their business opportunities. Rather than settling for a myopic, makeshift measure, a more fundamental solution must be devised to prevent the death of a young man from being forgotten with little avail.