Weekly Brief: August 29th – September 4th

News

Sunken Ship, Sinking Commission

The Sewol Special Investigation Commission held its third hearing into the causes of the tragic ferry disaster from April 2014, despite the government’s attempts to disband it. The government claims that the commission’s term is up and no further hearings on the disaster can take place, but parents of the victims plead that the commission continue its work. Meanwhile, the commission says that until the ferry is raised and properly investigated any claims about the ship’s conditions are pure speculation.

Korea Éxpose published a transcript of a press conference held by the commission last weekend, which is an excellent way for those not up-to-date on recent Sewol developments to quickly get caught up. It also shows how, despite how they are often discussed in the mass media, the demands of the commission and the victim’s groups are not unreasonable or especially difficult for the government to fulfill.

Accountability, Not Cash

6 of the 40 surviving ‘comfort women’ have formally rejected financial compensation offered by the Japanese government in accordance with the December 28th, 2015, agreement, saying it represents condolence, not compensation (and hence no admission of legal responsibility). 12 of the victims also filed suit against the South Korean government for the ‘unconstitutionality’ of the December 28th agreement and demanded compensation for signing the agreement against their will. This news came mere days after a monument to the victims of sexual slavery was unveiled on Namsan in central Seoul.

The amount offered by Japan to each surviving living victim and the amount each of the 12 victims demands from the South Korean government in this latest lawsuit are the same (100,000,000 KRW), but as the victims have said all along, it’s not about the money.

Sued for Protesting

In a rather aggressive form of union-busting, large firms in Korea have been using lawsuits as a means to punish employees who engage in legal, peaceful demonstrations against said firms. Without the means to fight the lawsuits, with claims for damages in the billions (KRW), these employees are strong-armed by the companies into ending their demonstrations and quitting their jobs without complaint. This practice has extended even to the national police force, which sued the Korean Federation of Trade Unions (KCTU) for its role in organizing the nationwide rally that took place in November of last year. One can’t help but imagine what would happen if the KCTU were to sue the police force for damages incurred from that same rally.

Quote of the Week

“A low birthrate is a statement by the majority of the members of a society that they do not want to perpetuate their current way of life. It amounts to a society deciding to commit suicide. Rather than trying to figure out how to encourage people to have children, we need to start with the question of how we can make people consider their lives as being worth living.”

– An attendee at a meeting between young professionals and National Assembly members to discuss the low birthrate crisis

In Brief

  • Over 90% of fatal industrial accidents occur to those employed by subcontractors, despite these subcontracted workers making up typically less than half of the work force at the surveyed companies. One such subcontracted worker, part of a team doing repair work on a subway bridge in Seoul, fell to his death over the weekend.
  • Female doctors and nurses are often pressured to ‘wait their turn’ before getting pregnant or just not have children at all.
    (Workplaces that operate in shifts often assign employees part of small teams of 3-4 people. When one person on the team takes vacation time or a leave of absence due to illness or pregnancy, rather than hiring a temporary employee the other team members have to work overtime for up to months on end to cover the absent employee’s shifts.)
  • Following the nationwide discussion on misogyny that began in May, the Seoul police force carried out a crackdown on date abuse from June through August that resulted in the arrests of over 1,200 individuals.

Weekly Brief is a collection of the must-read articles regarding human rights and social issues in South Korea, produced in collaboration with the Korea Human Rights Foundation.

Daniel Corks is Korea Exposé's human rights editor and a research fellow at Korea Human Rights Foundation.