“Husband worked till midnight even with gastric cancer diagnosis. But when he died, company …”

The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in the online mediaon October 27, 2011, covering a death of Samsung Electronics manager and company’s response not to acknowledge his death as an industrial accident. In fact, Korea is notorious for huge work hours. However, it is relatively unknown how much social expenses it claims and how hard the lives of surviving families will become afterwards as a result. This article will expose some of those issues. All rights of this post rest on the author of original article orand this post will be scrapped immediately at their requests. Original article (in Korean) of this post will be located following the link at the bottom.

The death of a Samsung Electronics manager .. Samsung man’s life through his wife’s voice

Last October 26 when all eyes were darted at the result of Seoul mayoral by-election stood a woman in all black in front of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. headquarter in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, at 11AM. She was Hui-young Yang (48) who lost her husband just a while ago.

In her memory, her husband was a man who always returned home early in the morning. He was a man who confessed his guilty feeling towards company for being ill. This husband suddenly got cancer. And he died. But, the company told her “why do you say we should compensate for someone’s death who liked to work?” That’s what her husband got after sacrificing all of his 22 young years. Finally, Ms. Yang decided to stage a solo protest in front of the company headquarter her husband had worked for.

“On average, he returned home from work at 1AM during that 22 years … I always worried about my husband’s death from overwork”


Ms. Hui-young Yang stages a solo protest in front of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. headquarter (Photo by Jin-kyoung Lee)

Ms. Yang’s late husband Hong-gil Park was a manager of Samsung Electronics IT Solution. He entered Samsung Electronics in 1989 and worked there for 22 years. During that 22 years, his average time to return home from work was said to be 1AM. This year, due to piled-up workload, Mr. Park returned home from work at 3, 4AM more often. Sometimes, he returned home from work at 6AM and had to head off to work with less than 1 hour rest. When he returned home from work, he always fell asleep as if collapsing.

He even skipped his meals often. Ms. Yang said “my husband told me several times that he had to prepare for meetings without any meals all day long”. Ms. Yang said she was always worried about her husband’s death from overwork all through her marriage.

“One day, I checked ‘overwork level’ mentioned in a broadcasted program for my husband. They said a score over 10 would mean a risk of death from overwork. For my husband, it was 16. But, he was a man who used to say ‘I would like the sun rise early and I can go to work early’ when he fell asleep.”

“He worked till midnight even when he got the gastric cancer diagnosis over a phone call”

Last August, Mr. Park visited hospitals for an acute stomachache. Including the Samsung Electronics in-house hospital that he visited first, all three hospitals diagnosed his symptom as gastritis. Despite unrelenting stomachaches, Mr. Park never skipped work days even during his hospital visits.

“When I asked him ‘how about taking some breaks in such pains’, he replied ‘I come to my mind again in the office so I can do my job there in pains’. One doctor, listening to my husband’s work hours, even said ‘how could you still be alive working like that?'”

On September 1, Samsung Medical Center contacted Mr. Park for detecting cancer tissues from his biopsy and asked him to pay another visit. Being concerned about missing works during his several-day absence, Mr. Park handled his job until midnight even the day he received the diagnosis call from the hospital.

On September 2, Samsung Medical Center informed Mr. Park that he was in the terminal stage gastric cancer and that it was already spread to 90% of the liver. Hospital told him that there was nothing they could do to him and recommended him not to stay in the hospital but to spend the rest of his life with his family. That was just 15 days after he had been to the in-house hospital for acute stomachache and diagnosed with gastritis.

“‘I will return to my job after recovery’ became his will”

Mr. Park, saying that he would return to his job after recovery, was reluctant to inform his medical condition to the company. He even used his monthly leave rather than the medical leave not to leave any record on his job ratings evaluation. Mr. Park, being convinced that he would not die, did not even leave any will to his family when he passed away on September 23.

“At the last day, my husband convulsed for 7 hours. He could not close his eyes all that time. Thinking how hurting it would be, I closed his eyes. Then, yellow teardrops flowed from his eyes. He could not close his eyes until the moment he died.”

That was just 3 weeks since Mr. Park had been diagnosed with terminal stage gastric cancer; he even did not use up all his accumulated monthly leaves. His words that he would return to work became his will after all. Mr. Park was taking English classes over phone every Tuesday. In fact, even during his hospitalization, he took English classes every Tuesday except for the week he died.

“One day when he could not sleep out of stomachache, my husband told me ‘I only kept on working at the cost of my family, my parents, my siblings, my friends and what have I become?’ It really tore my heart.”

Samsung Electronics, “He liked to work and died of it. Why should we compensate for that?”

After Mr. Park’s death, human resource manager of Samsung Electronics in Suwon said to surviving families “Samsung will help you with all our capacity. So let’s have a smooth funeral first.” But, when Mr. Park’s funeral was over, the company changed its attitude 180 degree. The human resource manager told surviving families “why do you say we should compensate for the death of your husband who liked to work and died of it?” or “he died because he could not look after his health properly”. To such drastically different company’s attitude, Ms. Yang said she could not help but to put out a hollow laugh.

Ms. Yang said “I even heard that ‘Samsung’s counteraction manual is different depending on cases and characters of surviving families’. Looking back, Samsung might have taken us very easy to deal with since we held the funeral without making any noise.”

Ms. Yang said “I asked company to release my husband’s work record to apply for industrial accident to Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (KWCWS). They told me they would look for it two weeks ago but did not come back to me since then.”

A Samsung official, in a phone call with Pressian, said “although we are really sorry for his death, the decision about industrial accident is all up to KWCWS not Samsung Electronics. To a question why Samsung does not release Mr. Park’s work record to surviving family, they answered “we will submit the record if KWCWS requests it.”

“How come Samsung could not make a ‘good example’ first”

“When my husband went to work clutching his aching belly, when he had to lay down his body on a cold plastic chair since there was no empty bed in the emergency room, even when the company sent just a fruit basket to him with a note simply mentioning him a promising employee, he never resented them once. Samsung was a place where my husband always said to have ‘dedicated his youth.’ If the company did not say how come I asked them to compensate for the death of my husband who had liked to work and died of it, I would not have come out on the street.”

Although the chances are slim, Ms. Yang said she would not mind bringing her husband’s case to the court for the industrial accident recognition.

“Samsung always speak about ‘prior examples’. They say they cannot recognize his case as an industrial accident since there has not been any prior example. But, is it impossible for Samsung to make a ‘good example’ first?”

To Samsung employees who pass by the Samsung Electronics headquarter, Ms. Yang shouted “this will be your story if Samsung does not change its attitude. Ms. Yang said “I hope Samsung changes now. I hope Samsung takes good care of the welfare of its employees, its real families, not to just mention ‘family’ in their advertisements.”

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