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Court orders compensation for Samsung employees who died of leukemia

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Published : 2011-06-23 20:37
Updated : 2011-06-23 20:37

SEOUL, June 23 (Yonhap) -- A Seoul court ordered compensation for the families of two young Samsung Electronics employees who died of leukemia, recognizing for the first time a link between leukemia and working in a computer chip-making line.

The Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of the families, who requested the court annul the Korea Workers' Compensation & Welfare Services' 2009 decision not to pay compensation and funeral expenses for the deaths. The state-run worker welfare agency delivered the decision, refusing to acknowledge their deaths as workplace disasters.

The latest ruling reversed the agency's decision, acknowledging the influence of the working conditions at Samsung Electronics on the workers' deaths.

"Although the cause of the employees' leukemia has yet to be determined clearly on a scientific basis, it is presumable that their constant exposure to toxic chemicals and ionizing radiation had caused or, at least, expedited the illness," a panel of judges said. "It is fit to say there is a link between their leukemia and their careers."

One of the two female workers, surnamed Hwang, died in 2007 at the age of 22 due to acute myeloid leukemia after being diagnosed with the illness in 2005 following her two years of work at a production line, based in Gyeonggi Province, for wafers used to make semiconductors.

The second employee, surnamed Lee, had a 10-year career at the same factory before dying of the same type of leukemia in 2006 at the age of 30.

"Given that they carried out cleaning duties on unautomated production facilities at the most worn-out place of the No. 3 bay of the No. 3 line, they seemed to have been exposed to a greater influence of toxic materials," the judge panel said, referring to the same spot they both worked at.

Similar lawsuits against the agency and the company are expected to follow the court decision, which is the first to tie working conditions at the world's largest memory chip maker to employee deaths.

Meanwhile, the administrative court dismissed three similar requests by the family of another dead worker and two former employees, each suffering from lymphoma and leukemia.

The court did not acknowledge the work-illness link in the cases of the two ailing people and the husband of the dead woman, who all worked at different production lines.

Samsung, which has strongly denied that its production lines pose risks of cancers, refused to accept the Seoul court's ruling.

"The ruling shows different results from previous investigations conducted by a state agency," the company's spokesman Park Chun-ho said by phone. "As the ruling is not final, we will try to clear suspicions through continuing trials."

He added that Samsung will announce this summer the result of a one-year investigation of semiconductor lines that's currently under way by a group of overseas experts.