Samsung to pay former workers with leukemia

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Samsung to pay former workers with leukemia

Samsung Electronics yesterday promised “due compensation” for its former employees who claimed that they developed leukemia after being exposed to harmful chemicals at its semiconductor plants, displaying a will to resolve the yearslong legal battles that have tarnished the company’s reputation.

With the announcement, the world’s largest memory chip maker appeared to be taking responsibility for the suffering of dozens of its employees, some of whom have died from the disease. However, Samsung Electronics still denies a direct link between leukemia and the employees’ work environment.

The promise, made by the company’s CEO and Vice Chairman Kwon Oh-hyun, is a response to a joint call for compensation last month by Representative Sim Sang-jeung of the labor-friendly Justice Party, a labor activist group called Banolim, the sick employees and their families.

“We will try to resolve the matter with sincerity,” said Kwon during a briefing at Samsung Electronics’ Seoul headquarters in Gangnam District. “We accept the proposal made in an April 9 press conference in a forward-looking way, and will make due compensation to those directly involved and their families.”

At the press conference, Sim called on Samsung Electronics to apologize to the victims and compensate them or their families via mediation by a third-party organization.

Five days later, Kim Joon-sik, an executive vice president of Samsung Electronics, said the company was reviewing the representative’s proposal and would announce its official stance “within days.” The company said it has delayed its response due to the sinking of the Sewol ferry.

Kwon apologized yesterday to the former employees suffering from leukemia and their families, saying the company was “negligent” about their pain and difficulties.

“There have been hardwork and dedication made by countless employees as Samsung Electronics has grown and in the process some suffered like these people,” Kwon said. “We should have resolved this a long time ago, and we did not do it.

“We are heartbroken about it, and I am using this occasion to apologize,” he said.

The CEO promised that the company will follow a suggestion from a third-party arbitrator regarding the compensation criteria and scope. He said the company will form a third-party arbitration group by consulting with the involved employees and their families. He suggested that Representative Sim, Banolim, the affected employees and their families propose more detailed opinions for discussion.

Rep. Sim yesterday welcomed the apology.

“I hope it will meet the families of the victims’ requests so that the matter will be resolved as soon as possible,” she said at a press conference.

Kwon also said the company will hire an independent agency to inspect safety measures and healthcare at its semiconductor plants and will then come up with measures to “prevent recurrence.”

He said Samsung will withdraw from an industrial accident lawsuit in which it was helping the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service defend against a claim for compensation by some of the employees and their families.

“We hope our acceptance of the proposal will add momentum to resolve the matter amicably in the near future and relieve the pain of those affected and their families,” Kwon said.

In a follow-up Q&A session, Rhee In-yong, chief communications official of Samsung Electronics, denied that the manufacturing process at the chip plants was the direct cause of leukemia.

“We hope there would be further talks,” Rhee said.

BY MOON GWANG-LIP [joe@joongang.co.kr]



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