Samsung to meet with sick worker advocates

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Samsung to meet with sick worker advocates

Samsung Electronics said yesterday it is willing to meet with Banolim, a labor activist group representing its leukemia-stricken employees, late this month.

“Banolim sent Samsung Electronics an email in which it suggested a meeting between the two parties,” Baek Soo-hyun, a senior communications official of Samsung Electronics, told reporters. “And we let them know our choice of May 28 or May 29.”

The company promised Wednesday “due compensation” to the employees or their families and asked them and Banolim to respond to the offer. It also apologized to them, saying it had been “negligent” in regards to their suffering.

The thorny issue, which has cast a shadow on the world’s largest memory chip maker in recent years, came to the surface last month when representative Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party called for an “apology” by the company and compensation.

Samsung’s promise of compensation and an apology signals a change in its approach to scores of legal suits it has faced over the years, although the company still denies a direct link between leukemia and the work environment at its semiconductor plants.

On Wednesday, Samsung also promised it will withdraw from industrial accident lawsuits it had participated in against some of the employees and their families. Yesterday, the company said it put that promise into action.

“As we promised, we have decided to withdraw from the four administrative lawsuits involving nine people and submitted a request of withdrawal to the court,” Baek said.

Since 2010, former ill Samsung employees or their families have filed 10 administrative lawsuits seeking to revoke a decision by the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service not to approve claims for what they said was an industrial accident at Samsung Electronics. Samsung had participated in four as a secondary party.

The Samsung leukemia cases first grabbed public attention in March 2007 when Hwang Yu-mi, an employee at Samsung’s semiconductor plant in Giheung, Gyeonggi, died of leukemia at the age of 23.

In May 2009, the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service declined a request for compensation by Hwang’s father, saying there was no evidence she died of a work-related illness.

But the Seoul Administrative Court overturned that in a June 2011 ruling on an administrative legal suit filed by Hwang’s father and the representatives of four other former Samsung Electronics employees, and acknowledged that Hwang and another former employee died of a work-related illness. The lawsuit is still under way after the Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service appealed.

Banolim claims that a total of 146 former Samsung employees contracted leukemia or other rare forms of cancers while working at Samsung, 57 of whom have died.

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

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