The power abuse of Yang Jin-ho, an actual owner of Web hard companies and also well known as the Web hard cartel, has infuriated the public. One of the employees revealed that he forced the workers to participate in a workshop and also compelled the employees to get their hair dyed in the color that he wanted. He even assaulted a worker who wrote negative comments about him and fired an employee who washed lettuce late at the workshop. Like this, various power abuses are prevalent in our society. In response, several efforts to struggle against them have emerged, especially in the workplace and the marketplace.
The Article about ‘Prohibition against Workplace Harassment’ was enacted to counteract the power abuses that have taken place in the workplace. According to the survey conducted by the Korea Labor Institute in 2017, when the legislation was being pursued, 66.3 percent of office workers experienced harassment at work. The law was enacted by the judgment that power abuse could no longer be allowed in such a society filled with workplace harassment. ‘Workplace harassment’ is violence that uses its superiority in the relationship at the workplace, aggravating the working environment. Whether the behavior is harassment or not is determined based on several factors: the relationships between them, the situation when the incident occurred, the response of the victim, the content and extent of the behavior, the period of the action, and so on. If the victim reports such facts to the employer, the employer should investigate the case to ascertain the report. When workplace harassment is verified, appropriate measures such as a temporary break of work for the victim and disciplinary actions for the perpetrator are needed. If the company treats the victims unfavorably, the employer would face up to three years in prison or a fine. The sorts of workplace harassment organized by the Ministry of Employment and Labor are as follows: forcing employees to smoke or drink, compelling them to participate in dinner engagement, verbal abuse, insulting remarks and behaviors in front of others, excessive surveillance, and so on. According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, 656 cases of workplace harassment were reported for 52 days starting from July.
Also, there is another effort to struggle against power abuse. In June 2019, a drunk woman assaulted a female employee by shoving and slapping her across the face several times. There are also other instances of power abuse such as sexual harassment, severe verbal assaults and so on. In response, the term ‘worker-customer balance’ emerged to pursue an equal treatment of workers and customers. This is especially a term for the protection of emotional labor.
In response to these power abuse problems by customers, the Emotional Labor Protection Act (ELPA) was enacted, in hopes of preventing emotional laborers from suffering customer harassment. With the ELPA, employers are responsible for taking preventive measures against harassment by customers. This can be done by creating a service manual about conflicts with the customer and also by putting up signs to ask customers not to mistreat the employees. When an employee is mistreated, the employer should support them with a temporary break of work, changing the workplace, extension of rest time, and offering mental treatment for issues caused by harassment. If the employer doesn’t take any action for the employees or gives disadvantages to them, the employer would pay a fine.
As such, there are many efforts against power abuse but they have some limits. In the case of the article titled ‘Prohibition against Workplace Harassment’, the standards of how to judge the authenticity of workplace bullying are ambiguous. Moon Kang-boon, head of a ‘Happy Work Labor corporation’, said, “It’s not easy to judge workplace harassment because it is largely related to emotions. If there is a conflict between the harassers and the victims, it’s difficult for companies to investigate because there is difficulty obtaining relevant evidence.” Also, as the employer is in charge of investigating and punishing harassment cases in the workplace, the employees would not report what they suffered or the punishment would not be effective. Bae Jin-suk, a lawyer at Dasol Law Firm, said, “I wonder if the company can investigate and take action properly in the situation that many of its employees keep silent with their rights due to the employers.”
In the case of the ELPA, people criticized that it is not enforceable. The employer was obliged to post a statement requesting not to make verbal assaults, but they would not be punished even if they do not follow it. Park Kyeong-su, chief of the Korean Federation of Service Worker’s Union, said, “The government seems to want employers to protect emotional workers on a moral level and as a dispensation. There is no way to do that if the employer doesn’t take action on the request for the correction from the Ministry of Employment and Labor.” Also, Lee Jeong-hun, head of Seoul Emotional Labor Center, said that the Act should be supplemented by experts and taught to people.
The enactment of a law banning workplace harassment and protecting emotionally abused workers and the emergence of terms like ‘work-customer balance’ are responses to the rampant power abuse in society. In addition, experts urge people to improve their awareness of power abuse. Seol Dong-hun, a sociology professor at Jeonbuk National University said “Nobody can be the ruler all the time. It is necessary to look back on our behaviors all the time. Also, it is important to raise questions about mechanisms that were considered customary, securing social consent that these are unreasonable.” It is time to move towards the society without any power abuses.
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