CHANG CHUNG-HOON The author is an industry 1 team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Industrial firms are anxious about the law punishing companies for serous accidents. Companies and workers agree on the need for safety on worksites, but they all oppose the law enacted by the National Assembly. In fact, about 800 people die in workplaces every year. Unofficial accounts could reach as high as 2,000. When so many workers die at work and no one takes responsibility — and same accidents are repeated — things must change for sure.
However, as management and labor clearly have different interests over labor-related laws, it takes intense discussion and training to make a law that is actually followed in the field. After the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s, it took four years to reach an agreement between management and labor on whether to allow multiple unions and whether to give wages to union officers. The National Assembly swiftly created the industrial disaster act, but Britain spent 13 years to reach an agreement on a similar law.
But the National Assembly moved quickly with labor and management related laws. A revision to the industrial safety and health act was passed 16 days after Kim Yong-gyun died at Taean Thermal Power Plant. The only changes are expanding the application to contractors and drastically reinforcing punishment of the business owner. But the law became nearly useless because the punishment was only increased without stipulating specific requirements for company owners. The latest industrial disaster bill was proposed four years ago, but lawmakers only held a public hearing.
Industries are already skeptical and not willing to follow the law, just like the industrial safety and health act. It is understandable because the original purpose of the law is confusing because serous disasters in industrial sites and civil disasters are mixed up. Even if the law is narrowed to serious disasters on industrial sites, management and workers are not in agreement on the definition of the serious disaster, accountability, level of punishment and range of businesses.
The National Assembly once again failed to define the specific duties of business owners to prevent deaths at industrial sites. No safety requirements for workers to prevent safety accidents were defined, either. The National Assembly neglected the role of listening to the opinions of the labor unions and management and resolving conflicts.
The legislature must rush supplementary legislation instead of adding further confusion in the industrial fields already struggling with uncertainty from the Covid-19 pandemic.