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[Newsmaker] Korean service sector workers fight for ‘right to sit’ at work

Oct. 4, 2018 - 16:33 By Claire Lee
Unionized workers in South Korea’s service and retail sectors -- mainly those who work at department stores and duty-free shops -- are fighting for their “right to sit down” at work, saying many of them suffer health conditions that result from having to stand in high heels for more than seven hours daily.

Since late September, the union members have been sitting at work when there are no customers around as a way to protest.

“It’s been 10 years since chairs have been placed at department stores and other establishments,” said Kang Kyu-hyuk, the head of the Korean Federation of Service Workers’ Unions at a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday. 

Unionized workers in Korea`s service sector hold signs that read "Give chairs to workers" at a rally in Seoul. (Yonhap)

“But many workers in the nation’s service sector can only look at the chairs at work. Many are still pressured to stand for long hours, enduring foot pain and other health implications.”

The union also claimed that many workers at department stores are not allowed to use bathrooms for customers.

Since the bathrooms for employees are often too far away from where they work, many end up not going to the bathroom at all -- fearing they may face disadvantages at work for taking lengthy breaks.

A vast majority of service sector workers in South Korea are women. The union said many female workers are only allowed to wear footwear provided by their employers, and often these shoes are ill-fitting or have high heels. The shoes particularly make it more painful for those who are pressured to stand long hours at work, the union added.

Due to having to stand for long hours and being unable to take bathroom breaks, many workers suffer from bladder infections, chronic back pain and bunions, among other health conditions, the union said.

“There are some 2,040,000 service and retail workers who endure limited job security,” said the unionized workers in a statement. “We will continue sitting down when there are no customers at work until all employees obtain their right to sit and take bathroom breaks whenever necessary.”