Send to

Biz lobbies cry foul over ‘workplace disaster law’

July 9, 2021 - 17:13 By Korea Herald
Major business lobbies in South Korea on Friday expressed concern over a new law that would allow CEOs to be punished, even by imprisonment, for serious workplace disasters.

The Korea Employers Federation called the law ambiguous, saying it would have a negative impact on companies already burdened by the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic when it takes effect early next year.

“A large part of the law, including the scope of a CEO’s legal responsibility, is still ambiguous and unclear, leaving firms with little clues as to how far one should follow in order to avoid punishment,” it said in a statement.

The Korea Federation of Industries, a major business group representing big corporations here, echoed the view. It said companies and businesspeople would have difficulty in observing the law as it fails to make clear important details such as what exactly are the legal duties of a CEO in preventing industrial disasters.

Earlier in the day, the government said it would proceed with from Monday a 40-day notice of an enforcement ordinance of the workplace disaster act that passed the National Assembly in January.

While the law intends to force companies to enhance their safety management by holding the chief executive accountable for any major disasters resulting from lax oversight and poor safety management, it left the core elements to be determined at the ordinance level. For example, the law stipulates the chief executive should allocate an “appropriate budget” to safety control and “faithfully execute” his or her duties to keep employers safe.

Under the law, CEOs can face a minimum one-year jail time if one or more lives are lost as a result of such incidents.

The KEF said it plans to gather opinions from concerned industries and companies and submit a formal letter to the government.

The workplace disaster law was first proposed by the far-left Justice Party with the aim of putting a stop to the recurring deaths at industrial sites.

The law’s literature has been greatly watered down during the its review process as it pitted pro-labor lawmakers against those who are pro-management. Both sides now say the legislation is flawed -- with the former saying it has lost its original purpose and the latter worrying about possible excessive punishment of CEOs.