8 Thai factory workers are able to walk again
▶ Eight Thai women who were working illegally in a Korea factory and got temporarily paralyzed after being exposed to the chemical hexane are recovering from their injuries after a year of treatment. Provided by Kyeongin Ilbo
ANSAN, Gyeonggi― At the Ansan Migrant Shelter yesterday, eight Thai women who had been paralyzed below the waist after being exposed to hexane while working illegally in a Hwaseong factory were on their feet and walking around.
The women came to Korea in September of 2003, hoping to earn a decent wage. They were employed at Dongwha Digital, which made accessories for liquid crystal displays. The women cleaned electronic parts with hexane for more than 12 hours each day without protection. In November 2004, they began to show signs of overexposure to the chemical, which damages nerves and slowly freezes muscles. Their legs became stiff and some fainted at work.
“We told our employer several times that we were sick and wanted to go to the hospital but he didn’t let us, saying that we were too busy and there was no time. I really hate him for that,” recalled Saraphee Yindee.
The women did not know that they were covered by Korean industrial disaster insurance.
In December that year, four of the women went back to Thailand, but those remaining in Korea related their story to the migrant shelter and circumstances began to change.
Park Cheon-eung, pastor and the head of Ansan Migrant Shelter, got the remaining five women into a hospital and went to Thailand to bring back the other three in January last year for medical treatment.
At the time, Ms. Saraphee’s mother was against her daughter going back to Korea. “She didn’t trust Koreans, but we persuaded her that there was little medicine or treatment in Thailand,” she said.
Confirmed as victims of an industrial accident, the women were able to receive operations without having to worry about the costs. For the past year, they have been receiving both physical therapy and drug treatment at the hospital. During the period, Gyeonggi province provided them with an apartment and 300,000 won in monthly living expenses.
Although they are feeling a lot better, their worries are not entirely over. The working visas for some women are about to expire, and those who came for treatment don’t have working visas at all. “I want to work. I have to earn money in order to go home,” said Sirinan Phinijmaneerat.
This case shed light on the realities migrant laborers face in Korea. It induced the Labor Ministry to inspect 300 factories that handled hexane, as well as another 1,200 factories that dealt with toxic materials and employed foreign workers.
The plant manager and president of the company were both arrested and later given suspended sentences with probation, along with fines for not giving workers proper protection and failure to install ventilation systems within the factory.
by Kwon Keun-young