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(3rd LD) Rival parties to seek passage of bill on toughening punishment for workplace disasters

All News 20:34 January 05, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with latest development in paras 5-6)

SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) -- Rival parties on Tuesday agreed to seek the passage of new legislation through the National Assembly this week that would mandate heavy punishment of companies in the event of serious workplace disasters.

The agreement was reached during a meeting between Reps. Kim Tae-nyeon and Joo Ho-young, the floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party and the main opposition People Power Party, respectively.

Under the accord, the parties will seek to pass the bill during a plenary parliamentary session Friday.

The floor leaders also agreed to hold an interpellation session the same day to question Cabinet members on urgent issues, such as the country's COVID-19 vaccine procurement and efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic, party officials said.

Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon (R), the floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party, and Rep. Joo Ho-young, the floor leader of the main opposition People Power Party, greet each other after a meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul on Jan. 5, 2021. (Yonhap)

Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon (R), the floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party, and Rep. Joo Ho-young, the floor leader of the main opposition People Power Party, greet each other after a meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul on Jan. 5, 2021. (Yonhap)

The government proposal submitted last week called for at least two-year imprisonment or a fine of 50 million won (US$46,015) to 1 billion won for business owners or CEOs in the event of serious workplace disasters.

Lawmakers, however, agreed Tuesday to lower the jail term to at least one year while keeping the maximum fine at 1 billion won and eliminating the lower limit. The agreement was made by the Legislation and Judiciary Committee's subcommittee.

It gives a two-year grace period to companies with between 50 and 99 employees after the envisioned legislation takes effect, while allowing a four-year grace period for firms whose employees number below 50.

Business circles including the Korea Enterprises Federation and associations of small and medium-size business owners have denounced the bill as passing the buck entirely to companies and being detrimental to businesses.

The progressive minor Justice Party's chief Kim Jong-cheol, meanwhile, has vowed to continue a hunger strike till Friday, calling for the parliamentary passage of the bill.

The legislation has been spearheaded by the Justice Party following the tragic death of a young subcontract worker at a thermoelectric power plant in Taean, 150 kilometers southwest of Seoul, in December 2018.

The 24-year-old Kim Yong-kyun was found dead about five hours after being killed, trapped in a conveyor belt at the plant's coal conveyance facility, while inspecting the facility alone.

An investigation found that Kim's employer, a subcontractor of Korea Western Power Co., which is a subsidiary of the state-run Korea Electric Power Corp., dispatched only Kim to the plant in violation of a safety rule that requires two people to work as a team.

A revised Occupational Safety and Health Act, billed as the Kim Yong-kyun law, went into effect in January last year to prevent any recurrence of the incident, but the labor sector and families of victims argued that the revision falls short of curbing workplace disasters and punishing those who are responsible.

Officials from umbrella labor unions hold a press conference in front of the National Assembly in Seoul on Jan. 5, 2021, calling for the parliamentary passage of legislation on punishing companies for severe workplace disasters. (Yonhap)

Officials from umbrella labor unions hold a press conference in front of the National Assembly in Seoul on Jan. 5, 2021, calling for the parliamentary passage of legislation on punishing companies for severe workplace disasters. (Yonhap)

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colin@yna.co.kr
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