After allegedly enduring months of constant harassment at work, South Korean office worker Christine Jung finally confronted her aggressor — only to be fired and sued for defamation by her employer.
Her situation is not unusual in South Korea, where employees have traditionally been expected to turn a blind eye to abusive behavior by those in power — a phenomenon so commonplace that locals have coined a word for it, gabjil.
However, that could soon change thanks to a revised labor law.
The new legislation, which comes into effect today, criminalizes business owners who unfairly dismiss employees harassed at work.
A recent government survey found that two-thirds of workers had experienced harassment on the job, while 80 percent had witnessed it. In one of the most high-profile cases, an heiress to the Korean Air fortune threw a temper tantrum at cabin crew after being served nuts in a bag instead of a bowl in 2014 — earning instant “nut rage” notoriety.
Rigid company hierarchies, intense competition for jobs and deference to status all contribute to toxic work environments.
In Jung’s case, her harasser was the chief executive officer’s father.
“He once told me the building was shaking whenever I walked because I was ‘too fat’. Another time he tried to follow me to the women’s bathroom. And another time he abruptly groped my stomach in his office,” the 37-year-old told reporters. “However, when I brought up the issue, the management accused me of being a man-hater and a liar.”
Jung finally approached the South Korean Ministry of Labor last year, but was told that her situation did not count as workplace bullying because the aggressor was not her superior and was not employed by the company, even though he came to the office “virtually every day,” she said.
The new law will subject owners of companies that “unfairly demote or dismiss” workers who allege harassment to three years imprisonment or a fine of up to 30 million won (US$25,000).
Employees ordered to write essays for their manager’s children, perform “sexy dances” for executives or even pluck out their boss’s gray hairs are among the examples documented by labor rights group Workplace Gabjil 119 and other non-profit organizations.
Violent behavior has also been reported. In 2016, a university professor was jailed for abusing his former student and employee, beating him with a baseball bat for taking short breaks and forcing him to eat human feces.
Nursing is notorious for its harsh training and so-called “burn-to-ashes” brutal work culture, with two recent suicides sparking debate about the sector.
After the South Korean women’s curling team, nicknamed the “Garlic Girls,” stole the show at last year’s Winter Olympics, they too raised allegations of abuse and exploitation by their coaches.
The issue is present in almost every sector, from K-pop and film to healthcare and academia.
However, with a weak social safety net and rising unemployment, it is often difficult for people affected to speak up, as they fear losing their jobs or being demoted.
Park Jeom-gyu, an activist at Workplace Gabjil 119, told reporters that even with the new law, the South “still has a long way to go, since it does not directly criminalize the bullies,” only employers who penalize people for speaking out.
“However, it is still a meaningful step toward change, as more will feel relatively safer to report when they face harassment at work,” he said.
Michael Hurt, a sociologist at the University of Seoul, said the obsession with hierarchy is a legacy of the wartime militarism of former colonial ruler Japan, later adopted by the South’s authoritarian leaders.
For many South Korean workers, including Jung, the new measures have come too late.
Instead of receiving an apology from the perpetrator, she was fired by the CEO, who later sued her for defamation and libel.
The cases were never brought to trial, but Jung said the disputes at one point made her suicidal.
“Those at my ex-employer didn’t treat me like a human being — it was as if I were one of their disposable commodities,” she said.
‘OBVIOUS DIFFERENCE’: The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been researching bat coronaviruses to trace the SARS pathogen, which is 80 percent similar to SARS-CoV-2 The Chinese virology institute in the city where COVID-19 first emerged has three live strains of bat coronavirus on-site, but none match the new contagion wreaking havoc around the world, its director has said. Scientists think COVID-19 — which first emerged in Wuhan and has killed more than 340,000 people worldwide — originated in bats and could have been transmitted to people via another mammal. However, the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology told state broadcaster China Global Television Network that claims made by US President Donald Trump and others that the novel coronavirus could have escaped from the facility were
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES? An institute of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and a company are to be sanctioned over ‘human rights violations and abuses’ The US Department of Commerce on Friday said that it would sanction a Chinese government institute and eight companies over alleged human rights abuses against Uighurs and other minorities in China’s western Xinjiang region. “These nine parties are complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” the department said in a statement. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science and Aksu Huafu Textiles Co are to be sanctioned “for
SPACE RACE: The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp mission aims to land a robotic rover and put a probe into orbit around the planet China is targeting a July launch for its ambitious Mars mission, which includes landing a remote-controlled robot on the surface of the Red Planet, the company in charge of the project has said. Beijing has invested billions of dollars in its space program in an effort to catch up with its rival, the US, and affirm its status as a major world power. The Mars mission is among a number of new space projects China is pursuing, including putting Chinese astronauts on the moon and having a space station by 2022. Beijing had been planning the Mars mission for some time this year,
Former US vice president Joe Biden on Friday said he “should not have been so cavalier” after he told a radio host that African Americans who back US President Donald Trump “ain’t black.” In a call with the US Black Chamber of Commerce that was added to his public schedule, Biden said he would never “take the African American community for granted.” “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy,” Biden said. “No one should have to vote for any party based on their race or religion or background.” Biden faced criticism after his comments earlier on Friday on The Breakfast Club, a