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The Peninsula

Worker Voices Not Reflected in Workplace Safety Bill

Published January 26, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • Severe Disaster Law was passed to protect employees working in environments with insufficient safety regulations.
  • While the new legislation intensifies punishments for chief executives, it does not provide supplementary safety regulations.
  • The effectiveness of the new bill is questioned as workplaces with fewer than 5 employees are not affected by the new legislation despite performing the most workload as subcontractors.

Implications: Persistent gaps in work safety laws underscore the lack of engagement between policymakers and their constituents. Workers claimed that the new law failed to incorporate their views – the result of policymakers only holding a single public hearing for the bill. The exemption of workplaces with less than 5 employees attracted particular scrutiny as these small operations account for 80% of all workplaces and 31% of industrial accident deaths. Furthermore, workers expressed worry that the new law will lead to corporations subcontracting dangerous tasks to small firms to avoid punishment. In this environment, workers called for a more thorough discussion on how to tangibly improve their workplace safety.

Context: South Korea imposes heavier punishments for workplace accidents vis-a-vis other countries. However, countries like the United Kingdom and Germany are able to achieve higher levels of work safety by ensuring that both the company bidding for a contract and its subcontractors are responsible for worker safety. As a result, these countries prevent companies from offloading their workplace safety commitments to subcontractors.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sophie Joo and Chris Lee. Picture from flickr user Mark Hanna.

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