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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 24)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 10:05 November 24, 2018

End of Samsung case
Time to strengthen occupational safety to protect workers

An 11-year dispute over fatal occupational diseases at Samsung Electronics has virtually ended as victims' families, the company and a mediation committee signed an agreement on how to settle the issue.

On Friday, the three parties signed the agreement drafted by the third-party arbitration panel. The signing happened about four months after Samsung decided to accept the arbitration proposal unconditionally in July.

The case carries significance because it set a new example of resolving a drawn-out dispute through negotiations. Particularly it shows how important a role the mediation committee has played.

It is still hard for any parties with conflicting interests to narrow their differences when a dispute takes place. Especially in industrial disasters, workers may face an uphill battle because any company can tenaciously refuse to take responsibility and acknowledge a lack of safety measures.

The Samsung case was one of the most tragic episodes. It surfaced in 2007 when Hwang Yu-mi, a former Samsung semiconductor worker, died of leukemia at 22. It prompted the bereaved families of Hwang and other victims of occupational diseases to stage a time-consuming legal battle to prove their deaths were closely linked to the harmful working environment.

The families had to file a suit with the Seoul Administrative Court because the Korea Workers' Compensation & Welfare Service rejected their compensation request in 2009. Finally they won the court battle in 2014. And 29 of 95 deceased workers were officially recognized as victims of occupational illnesses.

Now Samsung has apologized belatedly. President and CEO Kim Ki-nam expressed deep regret on behalf of the company to the victims and their families following the signing of the agreement.

According to the mediation committee, Samsung is expected to offer up to 150 million won ($133,000) compensation for each death. However, many issues still need to be tackled to resolve the dispute completely.

Most of all, Samsung should admit the relationship between the illnesses and the hazardous work environment. The company then needs to take all legal responsibility for its inability to safeguard employees from potential industrial disasters and workplace illnesses.

In addition, the company must pay heed to Hwang Sang-ki, who lost his daughter, as he claimed the work-related illnesses were not limited to Samsung Electronics' chip and LCD production lines. He pointed out there were ailing workers at other Samsung Group affiliates such as Samsung Electro-Mechanics, Samsung SDS and Samsung SDI.

Samsung should not try to shirk its legal responsibility by promising to donate 500 billion won to the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency to help improve workers' safety.

The government is not free from its responsibility for supervising workplaces to prevent occupational illnesses and industrial disasters. It is time to tighten safety regulations and step up on-site inspections to avoid a repetition of the Samsung tragedy.

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