Some ailing former workers shut out of Samsung’s illness compensation plan

By Kim Min-kyung

The Hankyoreh

Despite serious conditions among victims, Samsung says they’ll only compensate those with particular illnesses

Kim Mi-seon, 35, who met a Hankyoreh reporter in the emergency room of Asan Medical Center in the Songpa District of Seoul on the morning of Jan. 18, has only one hope - the negotiations about diseases that workers at Samsung contracted on the job. The stalled negotiations resumed last year.

Kim had been working at Samsung Electronics’ liquid crystal display (LCD) plant in Giheung, Gyeonggi Province for three years when she had to quit her job after coming down with multiple sclerosis in 2000. Today, her unending hospital bills make it hard for her to get by.

The compensation plan that Samsung submitted on Jan. 16 to the committee that is mediating a solution to the diseases contracted by workers at Samsung Electronics hit Kim like a bolt from the blue.

According to the plan, Samsung would compensate people with breast cancer, brain tumors, and five kinds of blood cancers including leukemia. Kim’s condition is not on the list.

“I ruined my body working hard for them. I’m not sure what grounds they have for omitting my condition,” Kim complained.

“Since Samsung defined the category of people who can receive compensation so narrowly, there has been a stream of phone calls from people with a variety of occupational diseases,” said Lee Jong-ran, a labor attorney who works with Banollim, a watchdog that advocates for the health and human rights of workers.

“Samsung needs to compensate people with all kinds of cancer, conversion disorders, rare and incurable diseases, and reproductive health issues,” said Lee.

In addition to the eight Samsung semiconductor and LCD workers and family members who are on the committee, Banollim consulted 170 other people about diseases that they contracted working for the company.

If Samsung’s compensation list is adopted, a considerable number of these people would be excluded. In fact, 21 of the 51 workers at Samsung semiconductor and LCD who have requested workers compensation would not be eligible for compensation.

Another problem is a requirement about the length of employment. Samsung said that it would only compensate people who had worked at least one year in the case of blood cancers and at least five years in the case of brain cancer and breast cancer.

By this standard, Kim Do-eun, a deceased worker whose breast cancer was declared to be work-related by the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service, would not have been able to receive compensation, since she only worked for four years and eight months.

Samsung also stated that even sick individuals who met the requirement about the period of employment would only be compensated if they had received a “special health diagnosis.” According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, workers who may have been exposed to certain hazardous conditions should receive a special health diagnosis.

However, not all of the people who worked at Samsung’s semiconductor and LCD factories were able to receive such a diagnosis, and even those who did may not have kept the documentation after leaving the company.

In fact, a review of the medical records of the eight former workers on the mediation committee showed that only four of them had received the special health diagnosis.

“We carried out a medical review when choosing which diseases to compensate for. The special health diagnosis is a reasonable standard since it is legally defined. The period of employment in the proposal is the best we can offer,” Baek Soo-ha, managing director for Samsung Electronics, told the committee.

“We are willing to discuss this further if there are reasonable objections,” he said.