Gov't group discusses protections for essential workers

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Gov't group discusses protections for essential workers

Delivery workers on motorcycles deliver food in Seoul, where online orders have sharply increased since the coronavirus outbreak began. [YONHAP]

Delivery workers on motorcycles deliver food in Seoul, where online orders have sharply increased since the coronavirus outbreak began. [YONHAP]

 
A government group formed to protect essential workers held its first meeting Tuesday, outlining a range of proposals it plans to enact in the following months.
 
The government defines "essential workers" as those who work in occupations that provide key face-to-face services, including delivery workers, caregivers, street cleaners and workers in construction, manufacturing and logistics — occupations that have been in higher demand since the coronavirus pandemic.
  
This comes after President Moon Jae-in stressed during a cabinet meeting last month that the government should devote “extra care and attention” to such workers, who he said are “under-compensated, suffer from unstable working and poor working environments and are always exposed to the risk of infection.”
 
The organization plans to support infrastructure to improve those employees' work environments, amend labor laws to prevent delivery workers from being overworked and strengthen social safety nets.
 
The government says it will support the necessary equipment to strengthen disinfection measures and lower infection risks for key workers. It will also support 70 percent of each company's expenses needed to purchase protective gear [up to 30 million won], such as thermometers and protective walls, for businesses operating in high-risk facilities. For delivery workers who are prone to infections, 1 million face masks will be distributed by the government.
 
Occupational health insurance will be expanded to cover workers in special-employment types, which will allow delivery workers contracted to food delivery platforms like Coupang Eats and Baedal Minjok to receive compensation for occupational injuries. The government said it will also send guidelines explaining the labor laws to owners of delivery service businesses this month, and will inspect the working conditions and health of delivery workers by the end of the year.
 
The government plans to expand the use of standardized contracts to protect the labor rights of key workers to prevent overworking, unreasonable expense claims by employers and liability protections for workers from damages they are not responsible for.
 
The government has proposed various measures to protect medical staff at risk of coronavirus infection. Guidelines will be revised to stop patients from making unreasonable demands of medical staff, following multiple incidents of coronavirus patients requesting that nursing staff run their errands and do other miscellaneous tasks. It will also add 557 medical staff at 15 public hospitals to ease the burden.
 
“Korea was able to fight against the coronavirus, thanks to the hard work of essential workers. We hope to create a society where those workers can work under a hygienic and safe environment with reasonable pay,” said Kim Yong-beom, vice minister of economy and finance.
 
BY KANG JAE-EUN   [kang.jaeeun@joongang.co.kr]
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