Konkuk University and the government

▲ Taejin Lee, Head of the Ministry of Labor Safety and Health, Daejeon Chungbuk Branch, Metal Workers’ Union
(Korea Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

Through a three-party agreement between Chungju City, Occupational Safety and Health Agency, and Konkuk University, the North Chungcheong branch of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency opened an office in the global campus of Konkuk University in Chungju on October 21st. In the meantime, the Chungju region and northern Chungcheongbuk-do have been barren for safety and health. In order to receive support for occupational safety and health-related civil complaints and services, it was necessary to travel more than an hour to Cheongju or other areas.

While the number of deaths has been decreasing nationwide, the northern region of North Chungcheong Province has soared by 27%, and the safety and health environment is so poor that 58 workers lost their lives in three years.

Chungju City and Konkuk University and Industrial Complex made a commitment to create an environment where workers can work in a safe and healthy workplace. From the outside, it’s a welcome thing. However, if you look at the reality, there is a situation where Konkuk University and Yu Ja-eun, the president of Konkuk University, are sticking their tongues out at the inconsistent attitude of Konkuk University.

Is it social responsibility to give away only office space?

Konkuk University Corporation and Chairman Yu Ja-eun were talking about ‘ESG management’ and ‘social responsibility’ and provided a branch office space in the dormitory building of the Konkuk University Global Campus in Chungju. However, the Konkuk University corporation decided to suspend special health checkups and health management services at Konkuk University Chungju Hospital from March 2022 because it was difficult to maintain the business due to the lack of smooth supply of industrial health manpower and low fees. If there is no money, it is no different than a declaration that even the health care work of workers, which is essential in the local community, will be abandoned.

Workers handling hazardous chemicals are obliged to undergo special health examinations. In the meantime, Konkuk University Chungju Hospital has conducted special examinations for 14,000 workers at about 370 companies in the northern region of North Chungcheong Province. The ‘business trip check-up’ was conducted on 5,000 workers from about 44 companies. It has supported the health care of 12,100 people from about 93 companies through the health management agency.

In a situation where even Chungju Medical Center, a public hospital in the Chungju region, was unable to perform special examinations because there was no specialist in charge, the special examinations at Konkuk University Chungju Hospital were the only support for determining the health status of local workers handling hazardous substances. However, due to the unilateral decision to abolish work at Konkuk University Hospital in Chungju, about 30,000 workers are being forced into a situation where they cannot receive safety and health services in the local area.

Education and medical services turned into money making

Last year, the Lyme and Optimus scandals, which are private equity investment fraud cases that shook the politics and economy of Korea, took place last year. Konkuk University Chairman Yu Ja-eun secretly invested 12 billion won in corporate assets in Optimus without a resolution of the corporate board of directors or approval from the competent authority, and was in danger of not being able to recover it.

As a result, reinvestment was not made in Konkuk University Chungju Hospital, and even though it was a university hospital, it was faced with a situation where it was unable to operate 200 beds. It started to lose trust from local residents as it led to a shortage of manpower and outdated facilities.

The Konkuk University Foundation was approved for the medical school garden for the purpose of revitalizing medical care in Chungju and northern Chungcheong Province, and converted the medical school into a medical graduate school. However, Chungju Hospital was neglected as it was said that a medical school would be established in Chungju, and premedical classes were run on the Seoul campus as an expedient. Not only did the Ministry of Education fail to manage and supervise it, but recently, in relation to the Optimus incident, the Ministry of Education was pushing for the dismissal of Chairman Yu Ja-eun, but it did nothing.

According to the ‘Curable Mortality Status’ data received from the Ministry of Health and Welfare by Rep. Kim Seong-joo of the Democratic Party of Korea at a state audit last October, the treatable mortality rate in Chungcheongbuk-do was 46.95 per 100,000 population, the highest in the country in 2019. There was a big gap compared to Seoul (36.36 people), which had the lowest curable mortality rate. This is because medical disparities and inequality in Seoul and provincial areas are being fixed in the capitalist system.

School and hospital operations should be normalized.

The reason that workers’ right to health is seriously threatened is because of the ‘don’t ask investment’, ‘expedient operation of medical school’ and ‘zero investment in Konkuk University Chungju Hospital’ in the name of business normalization by Konkuk University. In order to put the brakes on this, the needs of local labor, civic and social groups are reflected, and the central and local governments, which have the authority to manage and supervise Konkuk University corporations, must play their roles properly.

The Ministry of Education should dismiss Yoo Ja-eun and dispatch a government-appointed president. Chungju City and the Ministry of Employment and Labor should come up with a plan to maintain special health checkups and health management agencies so that workers’ health management can be continuously monitored.


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