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[ChosunIlbo ALC Webinar - SAPA] Foreign Businesses Seek Clarification of New Work-Accidents Law


Foreign Businesses Seek Clarification of New Work-Accidents Law

By Nina Pasquini, Chosun Ilbo - Foreign businesses here have asked for urgent clarification of a new accidents-at-work law that severely punishes employers if their staff are injured in the course of their duties.


The law, which came into effect on Jan. 27, is an attempt to respond to Korea's poor record of work safety and holds executives personally liable for workplace accidents, with penalties of up to W1 billion or one year in prison (US$1=W1,211). The legislation has been welcomed by labor advocates, but business owners worry that the badly drafted law could deter businesses from investing or establishing roots in Korea.


On March 30, the Chosun Ilbo's Asian Leadership Conference hosted a webinar about the law's prospects with James Kim, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea; David Park, an attorney at law firm Yoon & Yang; and Sean McLaughlin of consulting firm Cadmus Group.


The law replaces Korea's previous workplace safety law, which was widely agreed to be ineffective. But is the new law any better?


The new law "subjects companies and high-level personnel to stronger punishment and addresses legal loopholes that previously allowed top management to shift responsibility to hired third parties," Park admitted.


These included subcontractors, whose ubiquity in Korean industries is one of the reasons why the country's workplace accident rate is so high. Under the old law, the main contractor was often able to dodge responsibility and let the subcontractor take the fall. Activism was galvanized in 2018, when 24-year-old contract worker Kim Yong-kyun was crushed to death by machinery at a thermal power plant in Taean, South Chungcheong Province.


But experts worry about vagueness surrounding key terms in the new law, especially its ambiguous definition of terms that translate as "chief manager" or "responsible executive" and "required measures," according to a survey of 121 foreign firms in Korea by the Korea Enterprises Federation.


"There's been a lot of controversy due to the ambiguous definition of 'responsible executive,'" said Park. "The law is also still quite unclear at this stage as to what obligations companies must fulfill to avoid punishment." Some small and medium-sized enterprises are particularly concerned because a big fine could ruin them. Larger firms are better equipped to respond to the legislation, Park pointed out.


Kim also warned that the law may discourage foreign companies from sending CEOs or senior executives to Korea. "At AmCham, a top priority is to make Korea a regional headquarters in Asia -- to attract both foreign CEOs and Korean CEOs," Kim said. "But now we hear a lot of worries about becoming subject to the law."


The law differs significantly from American workplace protection, MacLaughlin pointed out, and these differences could lead to further confusion for foreign businesses. In the U.S., criminal charges against individual business owners rather than the company are "very, very rare," McLaughlin said, because they are largely a question of who can pay compensation.


The scope and scale of the Korean penalties are also larger than are those of equivalent American laws. Some businesses are hoping that the law will be revised to be more specific in its terminology and requirements, especially in light of president-elect Yoon Seok-youl's promise to be more business-friendly.


"I don't think there will be major revisions, because the law is still in its early days, but there is potential that the new administration could tweak the enforcement degree, to clarify gray areas and to make it more practical," Park said.


The three speakers agreed it is too early to judge the effectiveness of the law at preventing accidents. McLaughlin said he is hopeful that Korea can bring work-related accidents down. He noted that while the U.S. 50 years ago had similar workplace safety problems as Korea today, it has since made large strides.


"It will be interesting to see, as the law is implemented over a longer period of time, what sorts of impacts it has and what sort of takeaways other countries take from Korea's implementation of this law," he said. "The U.S. has seen a pretty dramatic reduction in workplace fatalities and injuries, but this has been a pretty stable decline over 40 to 50 years."


For many, the success of the law -- which punishes both accidents that occur during manufacturing and accidents that occur because of poorly-designed industrial projects -- is certainly important. This January, an apartment collapse in Gwangju killed six workers and injured another because the builder was cutting corners. In June last year, another building collapsed on the roadside during demolition in the same city, killing nine people and injuring several others.


McLaughlin said he is hopeful that the law in principle provides an opportunity for companies to prioritize workplace safety.


"These are fundamentally important actions that companies need to be thinking about in terms of workplace safety and health," he said. "So there is now an opportunity for these firms to put that front and center and show that they're taking it seriously." 





중대재해법이 글로벌 기업의 한국 진출 의지 꺾을까 우려

 ALC 웨비나 한미 전문가 전망


조선일보 장형태 기자 - 산업 현장에서 근로자가 사망하거나 부상을 입으면 최고경영자(CEO)에게 책임을 묻는 세계 최초의 , 중대재해처벌법에 대한 미국 기업인들과 전문가의 생각은 어떨까. 이들은 30세계 최초의 법인 만큼 앞으로 효과가 있을지 예의주시하고 있다면서도포스트 코로나 시대에 한국에 아시아 거점을 마련하려는 글로벌 기업들의 의지를 꺾을 있다 우려를 나타내기도 했다.


미국의 재난 안전 컨설팅 전문 기관인 캐드머스 그룹의 맥로린 국토 안보 담당 부문장, 제임스 주한미국상공회의소(AMCHAM·암참) 회장, 박다윗 법무법인 화우 변호사는 이날중대재해법 : 세계적 추세와 전망(Prospects of the Serious Accident Punishment Act Under the New ROK Government)’ 주제로 열린 조선일보 아시안리더십콘퍼런스(ALC) 웨비나에 화상으로 참여해 이같이 말했다. 연사들은 이날 오전 1시간 10분간 진행된 웨비나에서 중대 재해의 법적 개념과 재해로 인한 사망자 인정 범위 논란 법의 주요 쟁점에 대해 논의했다.


지난 1월 시행된 중대재해처벌법은 산업 현장에서 근로자가 사망하거나 부상을 입으면 경영 책임자를 1년 미만의 징역 혹은 10억원 이하 벌금에 처할 수 있도록 했다. 대한상공회의소·한국경영자총협회·중소기업중앙회 등 주요 경제 단체에서는 이 법이 기업 활동을 크게 위축시킬 수 있다며 우려를 나타내기도 했다. 주한 미국 기업을 대표하는 제임스 김 암참 회장은 “(이 법의) 선의에도 불구하고 재계에서는 많은 우려를 표하고 있다”고 했다. 이어 “코로나 이후 한국이 아시아 중심 국가로 성장할 가능성이 큰데, 한국으로 아시아 본부를 두려는 외국 기업들이 CEO 처벌 가능성을 염두에 두고 한국에 비중있는 지사를 두지 않을 가능성도 있다”고 했다. 


박다윗 변호사는 “기업들이 선제적으로 대응하기에는 법안이 모호한 부분이 많다”고 말했다.맥로린 부문장은 한국의 하청 문화를 법 제정 원인으로 꼽으면서도 “미국 관점에서 봤을 때 한국의 중대재해처벌법은 굉장히 특별한 경우”라고 했다. 그는 “미국은 산업 현장에서 발생한 재해에 대해 개인에게 책임을 묻는 사례가 드물다”며 “개인 대신 회사를 상대로 벌금형 등 처벌을 하고 있다”고 말했다. 동일한 재해가 미국에서 발생했을 경우에는 사업주가 감옥에 가기 보다는 벌금형에 처해지고, 형사가 아닌 거액의 민사소송으로 이어질 가능성이 크다고도 덧붙였다. 사업주가 법 준수와 산업재해 예방을 위해 해야할 일에 대해서 박 변호사는 “현재 개정안과 시행령을 봤을 때, 안전과 관련된 전담팀과 관련 시스템을 마련해야 하고 혹시라도 중대 재해가 실제로 발생했을 때 기업은 법을 준수했다는 것을 입증할 준비를 해야한다”고 조언했다. 안전에 대한 선제적 조치를 해 두어야 처벌 수위와 민·형사 여부가 갈린다는 것이다. 맥로린 부문장은 “지금보다 더 넓은 범위에서 사전에 리스크가 무엇이 있을지 파악하고 체크하는 것이 중요하다”고 했다.


이들은 5월 10일 출범할 윤석열 정부가 중대재해법을 재논의할지 여부에도 촉각을 곤두세웠다. 윤 당선인은 지난해 12월 암참 간담회에 참석해 “한국에 투자하려는 외국기업과 국내기업 간 보이지 않은 차별을 없애고 불합리한 규제를 합리적으로 개선하는 데 최선을 다하겠다”고 말한 바 있다. 이날 웨비나에서 제임스 김 회장도 “(당시) 윤석열 당선자와 다양한 규정에 대해 심도있는 개혁안에 대해 이야기했다”고 했다. 박 변호사는 “시행 두 달이 된 법을 바로 고칠 것 같지는 않다”면서도 “점진적으로 새 정부가 시행령을 조금씩 고쳐가면서 현재 모호한 문제점들을 분명히해 실효성 있는 법으로 만들 것으로 전망된다”고 했다. 출처: https://bit.ly/3uJHFMb, https://bit.ly/3LuPagt