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Korean employers’ anxiety grows as industrial accident bill nears vote


Reps. Kim Tae-nyeon (right) and Joo Ho-young, floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and People Power Party, agree Tuesday to hold a parliamentary plenary session this week to deal with pending issues including the industrial accident bill. (Yonhap)
Reps. Kim Tae-nyeon (right) and Joo Ho-young, floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and People Power Party, agree Tuesday to hold a parliamentary plenary session this week to deal with pending issues including the industrial accident bill. (Yonhap)
Rival political parties on Tuesday reached an agreement to put the bill on industrial accident to a full parliamentary vote this week, seeking to approve the enhanced regulations for employers as early as within the week.

With the apparently accelerated legislative timeline, business groups -- especially those speaking for large-size employers -- reiterated their concerns that the bill is set to exert excessive pressure on business operators.

Reps. Kim Tae-nyeon and Joo Ho-young, the respective floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party and the main opposition People Power Party, met in a close-door meeting on Tuesday morning, after which they agreed to hold a plenary session from Thursday to Friday.

“There are currently about 20 bills pending at the parliamentary Legislation and Judiciary Committee,” said Rep. Kim Young-jin, vice floor leader of the ruling party.

Parties especially underlined the need to add speed to the industrial accident bill discussions, aiming at laying it to the full floor vote within the week.

Prior to the partisan meeting, the Korea Enterprises Federation filed a petition to the legislation committee, claiming that the bill in question is an excessive regulation and that it may be replaced by other industrial safety policies.

“We request that ‘poisonous clauses’ be removed from the current industrial accident bill, so as to reflect the actual feedback of the business circles,” said KEF Chairman Sohn Kyung-shik in his visits to key party officials. Sohn is also the chairman of conglomerate CJ Group.

“The priority is to enhance the country’s relatively stalled preventive measures, not to add another set of restrictions and sanctions for employers.”

For instance, the KEF asserted that a serious industrial accident should be defined in further details, such as one that that involves “several” deaths on a repeated number of cases. Also, the mandatory preventive measures of the employer should be stipulated more precisely and employers who have duly performed their supervisory duties are to be exempted from sanctions, it added.

According to the government bill, the top management official in charge may face a minimum jail term of two years or a fine between 50 million won and 1 billion won, depending on the case. Also, in cases of deaths, the official will be prisoned for five years or more.

Last month, the KEF and other business groups had issued a joint statement to deter the bill’s progress as it is.

“We fully agree to the legislative intent to better protect workers’ safety and to prevent industrial accidents, but it is excessive to lay all the blame upon the management and to hand down quadruple sanctions including criminal punishment, corporate fines, administrative sanctions and punitive damages,” they said.

Participating in the joint statement were top or senior officials from the KEF, Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Federation of Korean Industries, Korea International Trade Association, Korea Federation of SMEs, Federation of Middle Market Enterprises of Korea, Construction Association of Korea, and Korea Specialty Contractors’ Association.

Meanwhile, the progressive minority Justice Party prolonged its rally to push ahead with the bill which it saw as a minimum step to protect the workers’ lives and rights.

“Major parties should not think of taking a step back (on the industrial accident bill) on the pretext of business circles,” said party chief Kim Jong-chul.

“It is the ruling party’s responsibility to put an end to the deathly industrial accidents and it is with the workers that it should talk to, neither opposition political parties nor business circles.”

The minority party also criticized the Ministry of SMEs and Startups for recently suggesting a compromising two-year grace period for small-sized businesses.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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