[Newsmaker] Samsung, victims agree to accept upcoming mediation on work-related illness

By Yonhap
  • Published : Jul 24, 2018 - 11:44
  • Updated : Jul 24, 2018 - 13:44

Samsung Electronics Co. and the advocacy group representing victims of work-related diseases Tuesday inked an agreement to accept upcoming mediation on the long-standing dispute surrounding compensation, which has lasted more than 10 years.

In a landmark decision to end the long drawn-out case, the tech giant decided to accept any proposal made by the mediation committee, which will be delivered in two months. The Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor Industry also decided to comply with the forthcoming decision.

The mediation body led by former Justice Kim Ji-hyung earlier warned that the committee will be dissolved unless the two sides reach an understanding to accept whatever verdict is made.

An official from the mediation committee said the signing event is designed to end the dispute once and for all. 

(International Campaign for Health and Labour Rights of Samsung Electronics Workers)

"We plan to prepare a mediation that includes details on compensation, apology, prevention and social contribution," Kim said. "The mediation will also seek to include ways to effectively cope with risks of work-related diseases sparked by uncertainties of issues surrounding industrial safety and health."

"The complete settlement of the case was the only way to console victims and their families, and it is socially valuable to do so," Samsung Electronics Co. said in a statement.

Hwang Yu-mi's father, Hwang Sang-ki, also welcomed the latest progress in settling the case.

"It is regrettable that we failed to settle the case surrounding workers who were sick and died by hazardous chemicals at workplaces, just because they were poor and weak," Hwang Sang-ki said. "We cannot help but raise questions about the existence of the government and the company."

"It is, however, reassuring that common ground has been found for settling Samsung's work-related illness case," Hwang added. "Such a thing should never be repeated."

The standoff involving the world's largest producer of semiconductors first surfaced when Hwang Yu-mi, who worked for Samsung Electronics Co.'s chip production line, died of leukemia in 2007.

SHARPS was established in the following year to stand up for workers who suffered from similar issues after working at Samsung's production lines.

While victims have been claiming that such diseases are workplace related, Samsung has rejected such assertions.

Samsung Electronics started direct talks with the advocacy group in 2013, with Samsung Vice Chairman Kwon Oh-hyun apologizing in 2014. The two parties, however, failed to reach an agreement, with the first mediation announced in July 2015 ending without making any progress.

In September 2015, the tech giant set up a fund estimated at 100 billion won ($88.2 million) and started its own compensation program for victims independent of SHARPS.

The advocacy group, on the other hand, has refused to accept the compensation and started an indefinite protest in front of Samsung Group's main office in Seoul.

The organization is set to end the protest Wednesday as the parties reached an agreement on arbitration.

"We have been carrying out the protest to show the world that Samsung's leukemia issue has not yet ended. We also needed to resume the negotiation stopped by Samsung," SHARPS said. "After enduring for more than a thousand days, we have been able to accomplish everything."

SHARPS said it hopes that the mediation will also help to lend support to potential victims going forward.

The dispute is expected to be fully settled around September and October.

Industry watchers said Samsung's decision was apparently made by the group's heir Lee Jae-yong, who was released from jail in February after being embroiled in a political scandal that led to the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye. Since his release, Samsung has been struggling to overcome its tainted public reputation.

SHARPS, meanwhile, said that as of June 2018 there were 320 victims who suffered from work-related illnesses after working for Samsung, with 118 of them already having passed away.

"It has been really difficult to make the move to accept the (upcoming) mediation without knowing details," a representative from SHARPS said, claiming the organization nevertheless decided to trust the committee. "I believe it was difficult for Samsung Electronics as well." (Yonhap)