7 January, 2021A pattern of fatal accidents at the global steel company will only be resolved when workers’ have the right to organize freely and participate in safety systems, says the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU).
Accidents in November and December at POSCO’s Gwangyang steelworks in Korea resulted in the deaths of five workers. On 24 November, an explosion near a blast furnace lead to the deaths of three workers. In further incidents on 9 and 23 December, another two POSCO workers lost their lives.
This is the 18th fatality in the past three years at the company’s Pohang and Gwangyang plants. POSCO workers have been killed by asphyxiation, explosions, fires, physical crush injuries, fatal falls, and overwork. The accidents have continued despite the plants being subject to an inspection conducted by the labour ministry.
IndustriALL Global Union’s Korean affiliate the KMWU believes that POSCO workplaces will only become safer when union representatives are able to participate fully in safety structures. Instead, POSCO recently dismissed three union activists for exposing union busting, and failed to reinstate them after the National Labor Relations Commission ruled that the dismissal was unfair.
The KMWU argues that large-scale industrial disasters happen at POSCO due to management decisions to not upgrade aging facilities and equipment, to downsize subcontracted workers, and to outsource risks instead of eliminating them.
POSCO blocks the KMWU from accessing accident sites and refuses to allow union safety experts to participate in accident investigation. The company fails to disclose the true cause of an accident after an investigation is concluded, leaving workers to face the same risks that killed their colleagues.
South Korea has the highest occupational fatality rate among OECD countries and every year 2,400 workers die in industrial fatalities. In 2018, trade unions and civil society launched a campaign for a Corporate Manslaughter Bill after a young worker in his twenties was found dead in a power plant after the company violated standard operating procedures.
The signatures of 100,000 citizens placed this bill before the Korean National Assembly. The intent of the bill is to impose heavy penalties on employers who cause the death of workers, and to ensure that they adopt comprehensive preventative measures.
The KMWU believes that if the bill becomes law, POSCO CEO Jeong-Woo Choi should the first person to be held accountable.
The KMWU demands labour inspection with guaranteed union participation, a joint labour-management response system, fundamental safety measures that address root causes, measures to improve aging equipment, and an end to outsourcing risks.
KMWU’s international officer, Hyewon Chong said:
“Allowing a democratic union to function freely is a precondition for setting up a credible safety system at the steelworks. But instead of working with the union to make POSCO workplaces safer, the company dismissed three union activists for exposing their plans to bust our union.”
IndustriALL’s base metals director, Matthias Hartwich, said:
“We join with the KMWU to demand accountability from POSCO for the frequent, preventable industrial disasters, and to call for those responsible to be prosecuted. We cannot stand by while our co-workers die in preventable fatal accidents. This must end - now!”