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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 8)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:06 February 08, 2019

No more victims
: Fundamental measures needed to prevent industrial accidents

The death of Kim Yong-gyun, a young worker in his 20s, has prompted the government to prepare measures to protect irregular workers like him from potentially fatal working conditions.

The subcontract worker was found dead Dec. 11, 2018, after getting stuck on a coal conveyor belt during an inspection at the Taean Power Plant operated by Korea Western Power (KOWEPO) in South Chungcheong Province. He was an employee of the Korea Engineering and Power Services, a subcontractor of the power plant operator.

His death renewed public attention to the struggles of people of a similar working status and their environment. At the Taean plant alone, 12 workers have been killed since 2010. There were more than 300 accidents where workers were either injured or killed at power plants across the country between 2012 and 2016, and about 96 percent of the victims were outsourced workers like Kim. His family has delayed his funeral, demanding the government respond to calls from the labor sector for measures to protect the lives of workers in dangerous lines of work.

The government and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) announced measures Tuesday at the National Assembly to prevent the recurrence of similar accidents. The measures include the establishment of a public corporation to hire more than 2,000 irregular workers in charge of fuel and facility maintenance at power plants. In addition, a special investigation committee will be set up to get to the bottom of the accident that took Kim's life.

It is a positive change that the government has come up with a plan to enable irregular workers at power plants to gain full-time status by founding a new public company. But the government's plan lacks specifics on how the company will be managed, triggering concerns that this is not a sustainable solution.

This Moon Jae-in administration has fixated on the issue of transitioning employees to regular worker status, but this is not the primary solution to labor issues. Turning irregular workers into regular ones is not a fundamental solution to preventing industrial accidents. More importantly, it sets a bad precedent because the government could be seen as submitting to the excessive demands of unions.

It is true that many irregular workers suffer from harsh working conditions. But that is not the core issue with the accident that led to Kim's death. The company's negligence in adhering to the regulation mandating working in pairs for his kind of nightly duties was largely blamed for the tragic death of Kim, who was working alone at the time.

The more crucial countermeasures should include strict punishment for companies that abuse their workers by ignoring safety rules at industrial sites, and encouraging companies to conduct safety training and acquire proper equipment.

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