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Law against workplace bullying misses the mark, leaves many victims vulnerable: civic group

April 5, 2021 - 14:46 By Ko Jun-tae
The illustration shows a person being bullied. (Yonhap)
A legislative revision targeting workplace bullying has missed the mark, one civic group said Monday, as it would not protect subcontractors or address harassment by customers.

Pro-labor civic group Gabjil 119 said Monday that the latest legislative revision, which passed in the National Assembly last month, was designed only to further protect directly employed workers from harassment by their employers.

It would leave laborers and contract workers vulnerable, the group argues.

Lawmakers late last month approved the changes to the Workplace Harassment Prevention Law, which would penalize employers or related personnel with fines of up to 10 million won ($8,900) if found guilty of workplace harassment. Employers can be penalized with fines of up of to 5 million won if they fail to protect victims or punish bullies.

South Korea has been struggling to curtail the practice of so-called “gabjil,” or abuses of power by people occupying higher rungs in the hierarchy. A number of anti-harassment laws have been passed in recent years, and the country was slowly seeing progress.

The latest revision was hailed as a step toward a better working environment when it was passed, but the civic group argues that it fails to offer adequate protection for maltreated workers.

The new law still fails to include laborers and subcontractors who are effectively in employer-employee relationships with contracting firms, it says, or protect service workers who are verbally or physically abused by customers.

Gabjil 119 had earlier received a complaint from a manufacturing firm employee who was laid off after being scolded by a supervisor at a contracting firm. The employee had declined to work additional hours due to family issues.

Another case saw an employee at a high-rise apartment in Gangnam-gu, southern Seoul, suspended from her duties when she filed a request with the Ministry of Employment and Labor to receive unpaid wages for overtime work.

The apartment management suspended her under orders from the head of the building owners’ committee, the civic group said.

According to a survey of 1,000 laborers conducted by the organization in December, 2.3 percent of respondents said they had experienced workplace harassment from employers at contracting companies. Another 4.4 percent said they were harassed by customers, complainants or vendors.

“If the Moon Jae-in administration kept its promise to levy responsibility for contracting firms indirectly providing employment to subcontractors, there wouldn’t be cases of contracting firms (harassing) those at subcontracting firms,” Gabjil 119 said in a statement.

“The government and the National Assembly should present a bill on increasing the share of responsibility for contracting firms to root out the tradition of authoritative harassment.”

By Ko Jun-tae (