Outsourcing risky work banned

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Outsourcing risky work banned

The National Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that bans companies from outsourcing hazardous jobs to contractors.

The new amendment to the industrial safety and health act is commonly referred as the Kim Yong-gyun Act, named after a 24-year-old contract worker who was killed while inspecting a conveyor belt at a thermal plant earlier this month.

It was approved with a vote of 165 to 1 at the legislature Thursday evening with the support of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and minor opposition Bareunmirae Party.

The multiparty compromise behind the bill will require top Blue House aides to testify at a parliamentary hearing next Monday over an expanding surveillance scandal.

The main conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), which strongly opposed the bill because of its unpopularity with corporate leaders, stood down during the vote.

Its leaders struck a deal with the other two parties to hold a House Steering Committee hearing next Monday in which Blue House Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok and Civil Affairs Secretary Cho Kuk will be questioned on their involvement in the ongoing scandal surrounding the presidential office.

A Blue House spokesman said Thursday that it was President Moon Jae-in himself who ordered Cho to stand as a witness at a parliamentary hearing to expedite the bill’s passage. According to the spokesman, Moon said that it was an “undesirable but necessary” measure to ensure accidents like the one that killed Kim are not repeated.

The bill outlaws companies from contracting other firms for tasks that are classified as dangerous and guarantees employees the right to stop working if they face risks to their safety. Public uproar ensued after news of Kim’s death was reported on Dec. 11. Labor unions, civic groups, religious leaders and others demanded that safety measures for industrial workers be strengthened. The bill was drafted with the support of this massive public reaction.

One of its fiercest advocates was Kim Mi-sook, the mother of Kim Yong-gyun. For days, she visited the National Assembly, pleading lawmakers to pass the bill lest “more of our sons perish.”

“Yong-gyun, I think a small portion of my guilt to you has been lifted when I go to you in the future,” Kim Mi-sook said after the bill passed on Thursday. “I hope you can tell me that I’ve done well.”

The LKP’s resistance to the bill on the grounds that it could weaken Korea’s industrial competitiveness forced the other parties to compromise. The level of punishment for companies in the event of a fatal accident and the contracting company’s responsibility for the safety of all laborers in the workplace were softened.

Also nullified as a result of fierce disagreements between the parties was the passage of three other reform bills that strengthened public accountability in private kindergartens. These bills were drafted by a DP lawmaker as a response to revelations earlier this year of rampant misuse of government money at hundreds of private preschools nationwide.

These bills mandated more transparent accounting on the part of private kindergarten administrators, and also have strong public support. The LKP has continued to block them from reaching a vote, arguing that they infringe upon private property rights.

By giving in to the passage of the Kim Yong-gyun Act, the 112-member conservative party now can mount a direct offensive against the Moon administration by grilling chief aides Lim and Cho over the Blue House’s alleged surveillance of private citizens.

The LKP has been hounding the administration for weeks now over the issue. It was first raised by Kim Tae-wu, a former Blue House inspector-turned whistle-blower. Kim claims that he was ordered to compile reports on private citizens by superiors at the Blue House. Kim also alleges that they tried to cover up a corruption accusation against Korea’s current ambassador to Russia, Woo Yoon-keun.

The Blue House has fought back against the accusations by the opposition and the whistle-blower. It argues that Kim Tae-wu is lashing out with false claims against the presidential office to deflect attention away the prosecution’s investigation into his own alleged corruption and power abuse.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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