Samsung Denies Worker Rights - and Worker Health - in South Korea
December 14, 2010 10:06 AM, by The Pump Handle
By Charles Levenstein and Dominick Tuminaro
There is an important intersection between the movements for international trade union rights and worker health and safety. Both recognize that core trade union rights are also human rights. On April 2, 2010, Ji-Yeon Park, a 23 year old former worker at a Samsung factory in South Korea, was buried, the victim of a blood cancer. She is one of approximately 100 workers who represent a "cluster" of cancer cases at Samsung plants. Fellow workers and members of Supporters for Health And Rights of People in Semiconductor Industry (SHARP) were prevented by police from marching from the funeral to the Samsung plant, but re-convened outside company headquarters to picket with signs that memorialized her death. Seven demonstrators were arrested after a brief memorial.
After the leukaemia death of 23-year-old Samsung worker Park Ji-yeon on 31 March 2010, the company went on Twitter to offer an expression of mourning. (Photo used with permission of Hazards Magazine. Photo by Ted Smith.)
There are no unions at Samsung. "Recognize trade unions over my dead body!" said Lee Byungchul, the late founder of Samsung. One occupational physician, a faculty member at a medical school near Seoul, recently told us:
Samsung has established fake unions ... in Samsung Affiliates. I know many workers have struggled to make an enterprise union, but their efforts failed. ... they have been fired by Samsung. For example, Jong-tae Park, was a worker of Samsung electronics... (He) has been fired due to (his efforts) to address (the) necessity of trade union by that company 5 days ago.
Another worker health advocate told us:
There have been many efforts of workers to organize themselves. But, every attempt has been completely blocked by Samsung. It's a kind of Hollywood B movie story; kidnapping, wire-tapping, blackmailing, and threatening. Maybe, dismissal is the most 'tender' way of theirs.
At Samsung, workers trying to exercise their most basic rights to organize and to protect themselves from hazardous conditions imposed by the company do not have the protection of the South Korean government. But when South Korea entered the United Nations in 1991, it took on all the obligations of member states, including the duty to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, South Korea states on the United Nations website:
In the area of economic, social, and cultural rights, the Government strives to enhance the quality of the lives of individuals by providing a wide range of opportunities to enjoy education, culture, health services, etc. It is also exerting every possible effort to guarantee labor rights, the right to a decent life and the right to health of the low-income or the vulnerable by securing the social safety net.