Death at Samsung, the dark side of South Korea's success
Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Lee Yun-jeong died of a brain tumour after two years of suffering and no hope for justice. The mother of two small children worked for seven years at a Samsung semiconductor plant. She is the 32nd person to die from cancer at the Onyang plant. Actions by trade unions on her behalf and a suit filed against the electronics giant went nowhere. Now her lawyer hopes to obtain compensation for her children.
Born in Seoncheon, southern Chungcheong province, Lee Yun-jeong began working at the Onyang plant in 1997 whilst still in high school. She was one of six students with outstanding grades who were recommended by the school for a job with Samsung.
Happy about the job, she started a busy work schedule that made it impossible for her to visit home and lead a normal life. In order to keep up with China, South Korean plants impose long and fast work schedules.
She never left her job. "She never let on that she was suffering or sick," Lee's mother Park said. "She was the youngest of our three daughters, but she didn't seem like the baby at all, with the way she put up with everything by herself."
In 2002, Lee met Jeong Hui-su (who is now 36) and fell in love. The next year, she left Samsung to get married.
"Back when we were dating, I used to see bruises on her arms and legs sometimes," her husband recalled. "She and her co-workers were having such a tough time there that they were desperate to get married and leave the company."
Despite its highly developed and modern economy, South Korea is very traditionally in gender relations. Women who get married are expected to quit their jobs.
In Lee's case, seven years of work had left their mark. Semiconductors are rare-earth based integrated circuits with copper wires used in mobile phones that emit dangerous radiations. In 2010, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
"She grew up in the country where the air was clear," her husband said. "After leaving the company, she just kept house," Jeong added. "The only conclusion I can reach is that [her disease] was the result of her working at Samsung."
Labour relations lawyer Lee Jong-ran filed an industrial accident claim with the Korean Workers' Compensation and Welfare Service in July 2010. In February 2011, the claim was turned down. In April, she filed an administrative suit to against the decision, but no hearing has yet been held.
Samsung did not wait for the outcome. On two occasions, company representatives met Lee's husband Jeong to ask him not to contact any group. They also tried to convince him that a hearing before an administrative board would never be done in time. After that, the company ceased all contacts with the family.
After his wife died, Jeong said that he would continue the battle, insisting that he is ready to go all the way against Samsung, at least "for our children."