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[labor news] The outsourcing of dangerous tasks takes one more life of a young irregular worker
▲ A thermal power plant on scene. [Jeong Ki-hoon/The Labor Today]

The 'outsourcing of dangerous tasks' took the life of one more young contingent worker.

According to the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union(KPTU) and the Korea Western Power(KOWEPO), Kim Yong-gyun, a 24-year old contract worker was found dead stuck on a conveyor belt carrying coal at a KOWEPO's thermal power plant in Taean, South Chungcheong Province at 3:23 at dawn on December 11. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions(KCTU) issued a statement mourning over the death of a young worker and singled out that "the outsourcing of dangerous tasks and the one-person-on-duty are the causes of his death, rather than the conveyor belt itself."

Kim was hired by a subcontracting firm called the Korea Engineering & Power Service(KEPS) which provides the commissioned service of operating the coal conveying facilities to the Taean Thermal Power Plant. The incident occurred in three months since he was recruited as an operator at site with the one-year fixed term employment contract.

According to the KEPS's labor union, Kim came to work around 6 in the evening on December 10 and conducted his duty of monitoring the conveyor belts which carry coals from the coal storage silos to the power plant boilers. Ever since Kim made a telephone call to his supervisor at KEPS around 9:30 at that night, he had been disconnected. Sensing something unusual, his co-workers went out to search for him and found him dead stuck on a conveyor belt around at 3:20 at dawn. Nobody knows when and how this fatal accident took place and what had happened for the duration of 6 hours of his missing, because he was on duty alone.

Lee Joon-seok who heads the KEPS labor union said that "monitoring the coal conveyor belts is one of most important tasks in the power plants which run round the clock, but due to the manpower shortage, the buddy system of two persons in a team is effectively almost impossible." Lee added that "when we have operational problems of the conveyor belts, we have no choice but to check them with our own eyes. It is very dangerous as the conveyor belts are still in operation."

Criticism has been arising that the outsourcing of dangerous tasks is taking the lives of young contingent workers. A few months ago, a young worker at a distribution center of CJ Logistics lost his life, and a couple of years ago, a young subcontract worker was killed by a train at a subway station in Seoul, while he was alone on duty repairing the screen doors.

On December 11, a press conference under the title of "Mr. President, please grant a talk with 100 representatives of contingent workers" was held at the Korea Press Center in downtown Seoul.

Lee Tae-seong, secretary of the Power Pant Irregular Workers Solidarity Council, said with his eyes full of tears in the press conference that "today, another colleague of mine died. The deceased was an irregular worker still in the flower of his youth working at the Taean Thermal Power Plant. I attended the parliamentary audit of government agencies as a reference witness in October this year pleading with no more fatalities of irregular workers, even if we were not converted into regular positions. However, today, we lost another colleague. Even though we are subcontract workers, but still we are citizens of the nation. Protect us from deaths. The way to do so is to stop the outsourcing of dangerous tasks."

The late Kim Yong-gyun actually applied his attendance to the press conference with his selfie(see the attached photo). He was holding a sign in this selfie wearing a helmet and dust protective mask, reading that "Mr. President , grant us a meeting with you." He also called for the "abolition of bad labor laws", "punishment for those responsible for illegal worker dispatch", "conversion of irregular workers through direct employment", and he introduced himself as an irregular worker who operates the coal facilities at a thermal power plant.

The number of indirectly employed irregular workers working at the five electric power companies reaches about 7,800. The electric power companies argue that "as the maintenance and repair services are not the life and safety related tasks, we are not obliged to hire them directly."

9 out of 10 fatalities in the ratio reported at the power plants were the victims of the subcontracting firms. Of 346 industrial accidents occurred during the past five years from 2012 up until 2016, 337 cases(97%) took place at the tasks commissioned to the subcontracting firms. 40 fatalities were reported at the power plants during the period of 9 years from 2008 until 2016, 37(92%) were the fatalities of subcontract workers.

reported by Kim Mi-young
translated by Kim Sung-jin

번역 김성진  goyong1472@gmail.com

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