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The death of a subway mechanic hit by an arriving train one day before he turned 20 exposed problems and irregularities in his employer and the state entity that hired the maintenance company.

The biggest fault lay with the shady relationship between a public company and retirees. Seoul Metro, a unit of the Seoul Metropolitan Government that operates subway lines No. 1 through 4, outsources more than 30 technology-related jobs to private companies, mostly run by former colleagues. The employer of the victim earned 9 percent returns from Seoul Metro under its 22-year contract.

Even with such a secure income, the company hired part-time workers on the cheap for dangerous and rigorous jobs. The workers worked under harsh conditions, while the managers fattened themselves up with the income from their former company instead of paying to improve working conditions. Seoul Metro has also turned a blind eye to the poor safety practices and irregularities committed by its former employees.

The company that employed the victim routinely had engineers work alone in the field, in violation of the safety manual that requires two to work as a team. Of 195 tasks, a lone worker was assigned to 48, meaning the company violated safety regulations in one out of every four assignments. Law enforcement authorities must get to the bottom of this.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon must apologize to the victim’s family and to the city’s citizens for this failure to enhance safety despite repeated similar subway accidents over the last four years. The city government must come up with strong measures to reinforce safety and reform outsourcing practices.

What could also be considered is a bill, put into motion in October 2014, proposing direct hires for dangerous jobs. The bill suggests banning outsourcing in hazardous railway, aviation and other transportation fields, instead reserving these posts for permanent skilled workers.

The bill should be supplemented with a prohibition against any discrimination between contract and permanent workforce members in jobs where an employee’s safety might be placed at risk.

The bill was killed after one review in March 2015. The new legislature must revive the bill to ensure better working and safety conditions for harsh labor workers. The entire system must be revamped so that tragic industrial accidents, caused by structural problems, do not recur.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 2, Page 30
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