July 15, 2013
On July 14, irregular workers at subcontracting companies for Samsung Electronics Service founded a new labor union. Around 400 workers participated in the organization of the Samsung Electronics Service chapter of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union. The union is significant both as a large labor union at a Samsung workplace and as the first labor union established by irregular workers.
If the courts recognize that the laborers who filed a lawsuit were illegally dispatched, the labor union will gain considerable bargaining rights. And indeed, it seems clear that illegal dispatching did take place. We hope that this will be an opportunity to end Samsung’s no-union, anti-human rights management style.
“I dedicated my youth to Samsung, and it turns out that I was illegally dispatched,” one worker said with frustration. This sentiment demonstrates why the workers at Samsung Electronics Service’s subcontractors moved to organize a labor union.
The subcontractor workers wear the uniforms of Samsung Electronics Service and are subject to the strict oversight and directions by the company, but they are irregular workers who are not even guaranteed the minimum rights and wages stipulated by law. The workers stepped forward to organize the union in order to improve the inadequate working conditions and to enjoy the rights they deserve.
The reason that so many workers gathered in one place – hundreds took part in the general assembly on July 14 – was that they thought they had nothing to lose even if they were fired for joining the union.
In their lawsuit for confirming working status, employees of subcontractors of Samsung Electronic Service ask the court to determine who their real employer is. The key question in the suit is whether the subcontractors are actually independent from the management of their prime contractor, Samsung Electronics Service.
While Samsung maintains that the subcontractors are independent companies with their own managerial autonomy, those who are familiar with the facts say that the subcontracting companies are shell companies with no independence.
Testimony and evidence have continued to emerge showing that it is Samsung Electronic Service that is directing and supervising the workers and that the subcontracting companies are effectively administrative departments that handle personnel issues and pay workers’ wages.
In a decision recognizing Choe Byeong-seung, a dismissed worker with a subcontractor for Hyundai Motor, as a case of illegal dispatch, the Supreme Court distinguished subcontracting and illegal dispatch. Cases in which the subcontracting company is little more than a shell and the prime contractor directs and oversees the work of the subcontractor laborers and records their attendance, the court said, are not subcontracting but rather illegal dispatch. This can be said to apply to Samsung Electronics Service.
Samsung is said to have ordered extra weekend work and put pressure on subcontractors to stop the general meeting for the establishment of the labor union. This is not only illegal but also embarrassing.
It is contradictory to aim to be the best company in the world while violating universally recognized principles. Furthermore, the cost incurred by non-union management is considerable.
Samsung management needs to change its ways. It needs to hire the illegally dispatched workers as full-time employees and guarantee their rights.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has declared that creating good jobs is one of her administration’s policy objectives. Park and the courts must correct the widespread illegal dispatching, not only in the manufacturing industry but also in the service sector.