Mayor vows Seoul Metro will clean up its act

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Mayor vows Seoul Metro will clean up its act


Park Won-soon

More than a week after a teenage mechanic was killed by an incoming train while working alone on a platform door, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon promised to overhaul the vast subcontractor system in public institutions run by the Seoul city government.

“I apologize to the victim and his relatives and to all citizens,” Park said. “The city government will be pursuing options to directly manage operations that involve the lives and safety of the citizens, instead of outsourcing them.”

Subcontracting jobs like maintenance generally cuts costs for companies but takes management of workers, including measures for their safety, out of the companies’ control.

Seoul Metro, a public corporation run by the Seoul Metropolitan Government that operates subway lines No. 1 through 4, admitted poor supervision of the site and subcontractors, and said an unrealistic safety manual caused the tragedy.

Until a day ago, Seoul Metro had said it will establish a subsidiary maintenance company instead of rely on workers from subcontracted companies like Eunsung PSD, the employer of the teenage mechanic who was killed.

Park now says that other options, like having Seoul Metro directly manage maintenance services, are being considered. Seoul Metro’s contract with Eunsung PSD terminates at the end of this month. Eunsung PSD provides platform maintenance work for Seoul Metro at 97 stations in Seoul.

“While establishing a subsidiary maintenance company would also provide job security and motivation to workers, the city government is considering the option to directly manage platform maintenance,” said Lee Won-mok, head of the transportation policy department of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, “after civic groups and labor unions said establishing a subsidiary company is too meager a response.”

But since the Local Public Enterprises Act limits the number of employees at public institutions, it may be difficult for Seoul Metro to hire enough maintenance workers. One of the reasons the young mechanic had to work alone on the platform was a shortage of labor.

“The city government will consult with the Ministry of the Interior [to see if the limit on the number of employees at public institutions can be changed],” Park said.

The mayor added that Seoul Metro may also eventually try to directly manage the maintenance services provided by Yujin Metro Communications, which oversees the maintenance of 24 stations on subway lines No. 1 through 4. The company signed two contracts with Seoul Metro that run through 2024 and 2028.

Outsourcing maintenance work through subcontractors is common in many organizations run by the city government.

As many as 11 organizations run by the Seoul Metropolitan Government were found to have hired 2,241 workers through 596 subcontracted companies, with 97.6 percent of them being maintenance service providers, according to the city government.

The city government said that outsourcing maintenance work will be discouraged from now on.

Internal documents from Eunsung PSD have also revealed cozy links between Seoul Metro and the maintenance company, through which scores of retired officials from Seoul Metro were rehired at Eunsung PSD.

Despite a lack of training in platform repair work, many were paid triple the salary of a regular mechanic.

“We will root out the Mefias,” Mayor Park said, referring to an abbreviation for the slang term “Metro mafias,” “by making obsolete all clauses in contracts of Seoul Metro that obligate subcontractors to take in retired officials of Seoul Metro under favorable conditions.”

When questioned whether he was aware of such cozy links between Seoul Metro and its subcontractors, the mayor said he “did not know about them until recently.”

While it would be unfeasible to fire all the former Seoul Metro employees rehired by subcontracted maintenance companies, Lee of the city government’s transportation policy department said that “leveling the playing field for regular mechanics and the retired officials will be possible.”

Park added that a 15-person fact-finding committee will be established this week to investigate the death of the worker. It will be composed of five citizen representatives, five experts in labor, youth and subway affairs, and others, including auditors and Seoul Metropolitan Council lawmakers.

Chaired by a former Supreme Court justice, the committee will reveal its findings in July.

In the fatal accident, the train did not stop despite the fact that a platform door was open. Seoul Metro is looking into changing the automatic train stop system of stations on lines No. 1 through 4 to an automatic train operation system, whereby a train will not proceed to a platform when a door remains open.

“We hope to establish this system by 2020,” said Gong Byeong-yeop, who works at the city railway management team of the Seoul city government. “The automatic train operation system is established in all the other subway lines in Seoul, but not yet in those managed by Seoul Metro.”

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