200 sick Samsung workers accept mediation for compensation

Business | 24 Jul 2018 2:30 pm

Samsung Electronics and the advocacy group representing victims of work-related diseases inked an agreement today to accept 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 (Sharps) also decided to comply with the forthcoming decision, Yonhap reports.

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.

"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 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."

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 (US$88.2 million) and started its own compensation program for victims independent of Sharps.

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

The organization is set to end the protest tomorrow 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."

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. It said 118 of them have already died.

"It has been really difficult to make the move to accept the 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."

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