Kia’s labor problem

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Kia’s labor problem

Kia Motors turned out to have engaged in various types of illegal activities involving trainees from vocational high schools. The Ministry of Employment and Labor has discovered as many as 82 violations of the law at the company’s factory in Gwangju, South Jeolla - ranging from overdue wages to working hours that are too long.

The ministry conducted its investigation into the company after an 18-year-old high school student died of a massive brain hemorrhage last December while working at the Gwangju factory as an apprentice.

This incident has drawn our attention to labor abuses in industry.

The company forced 138 high school students to work for longer hours than the law mandates. It turned out that the Gwangju factory had compelled 78 of them - all of whom are under 18 - to work at night and on holidays without getting permission from the labor minister.

Yet the company did not compensate the students for overtime as stipulated by the law, according to the Labor Ministry’s investigation.

That raises the gloomy suspicion that Kia, perhaps in an attempt to save on rising personnel costs, tried to take advantage of the students on the pretext of teaching them vocational skills.

We are utterly dumbfounded that such a shameful practice took place in a top-caliber company that has an immense social responsibility to do the opposite.

Unfortunately, however, the trainees are the underdogs in the current on-the-job training system because they have no other choice but to accept excessive demands from companies like Kia because of the grim reality that their performance records at factories could lead to actual employment after they graduate from high school.

As a result, all the students at the Gwangju factory kept silent when one of their friends died of overwork.

The government must first beef up its efforts to monitor how companies treat their student trainees and come up with effective ways to protect their rights. The National Assembly should also enact laws that prohibit companies from exploiting student labor to save on expenses.

It is time for industry, schools and the government to establish an exemplary model for cooperation between industry and the schools so that a mutually beneficial outcome is possible for everyone involved.

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