South Korea, [Opinion] Neglect for Labor Killed a Young Man

On April 28th, a subway screen-door repairman was killed following a fatal collision with a train. Similar accidents which occurred last August, 2015 in Gang-nam Station, and in Seong-Soo Station in 2013, happened again. The instructions and the pledge of SeoulMetro which called for the prevention of these accidents were futile. Nobody paid attention when a 19-year old young man responded to his call and went alone to repair the screen-door and was killed, nor did anybody stop him due to safety rules.

This accident was the result of the laborer being pressured to perform dangerous work duties alone. Mr. Kim, the deceased, worked for a subcontractor under SeoulMetro which specializes in screen-door repair. The subcontractor, which covers a total of 97 stations, has been confirmed to have suffered from lack of manpower. Mr. Kim’s parents cried that “Even though there were instructions that stated people must work in a pair, this was not kept,” and Mr. Kim did not even have time to eat properly due to his work overload.

During the repair, important information such as duration, objectives, and personnel setups of the maintenance operation should have been reported to the station office, and the train should have been stopped. However, this system was not followed. Why remains to be proven by further investigation, but any attempt to blame the deceased with regards to the investigation should not be tolerated.

The reason why these ridiculous accidents continue happening is due to the rampant subcontracting system within the Korean economy. Even though the maintenance of screen-doors is crucial for the smooth operation of the subway system, SeoulMetro is subcontracting jobs to other companies. The engine driver and the station officers work for SeoulMetro, and the maintenance is subcontracted to temporary workers; therefore, communication to stop the train temporarily during the repair was impossible.

In essence, this accident was caused by neglect and disregard for labor in our society. Even the public sector is working only to produce more profit; divisions, subcontracts, and indirect employment is rampant. Although countless people are being killed and maimed in the factories of the biggest conglomerates, the companies pay a little bit of money, halt production for a few days, and the incident is forgotten. Trade unions which have to protect the safety and the rights of the laborers are regarded as the social evil and are becoming more and more isolated. For the subcontracted and temporary laborers, the three rights of labor are nothing but mere letters that are fast asleep in the pandect. Despite the nature of our society which disregards safety for money, as exposed through the Sewol incident, the lives of laborers are still at stake while they work.

However, the current administration is only maintaining its retrogressive stances regarding labor – it wants to make it easier to fire laborers, it wants to increase occupational mobility, and it wants to weaken trade unions. The voice that calls for safer conditions for laborers, because it costs the company money for implementation, falls on deaf ears.

Only the continuous struggle of the laborers and the solidarity of the citizens can make our society safer. If we want the tragic death of this 19-year old young man to be remembered, we must fight to build a society that protects and values the lives and the safety of the laborers.

Source:, 2016-05-31 07:16:40

Translated by David Heo


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