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Repeated Fatal Accidents of Specialized Vocational High School Trainees: Thorough Investigation and Precautions are Needed
  • By Park Jung-hyun,cub-reporter
  • 승인 2021.10.31 22:56
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▲ On October 7, the Korean Specialized High School Workers' Union urged to prevent deaths of high school field trainees (Source: Korean Specialized High School Workers' Union Facebook).

On October 6th, Hong Jung-woon, a specialized Vocational High School Senior, was found drowned at a yacht company. He had gone there for a field practice in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do Province. According to the police, the victim seems to have sunk into the water wearing a 12-kilogram lead belt around his waist, while removing the barnacle attached to the yacht's bottom. It is not the first time an accident has occurred during a specialized high school's field practice. In January 2017, Hong Soo-yeon, who was having a practical exercise at the call center in Jeonju, died. After suffering from high-intensity labor in a notorious department, she committed suicide. In November of that year, Lee Min-ho, who went to a bottling plant for field training in Jeju Island, died after being stuck in a pressing machine, while working alone.

The accidental death case that happened last October, would not have occurred if the company had complied with the "field practice standard agreement." It turned out that the CEO of a yacht company ordered students to do diving work that was not in the agreement. According to an interview of the victim's classmate, he said, "Our teacher said that we would be in charge of service work and cleaning. However, the company owner told Jung-woon to pick the barnacles from the yacht's bottom." In addition, it turned out that the victim had a phobia about diving. That is, the company made the victim work, even though he was not qualified for diving. Additionally, having a phobia or previous trauma towards diving, would put him at higher risk to have an accident.

In fact, the Ministry of Education had previously announced a plan to improve the field practice environment in December 2017, due to a series of accidents in the past. The goal was to repeal such field practices in the form of early employment. Also, they reduced the field training period from the previous six months to three months to focus on, "learning-centered," field training. Furthermore, it included the content to induce field practice limited to job-related fields, suitable for majors. This is because, in 2017, both Hong and Lee had an accident while training in areas not related to their major. Hong majored in Pet Science, and Lee majored in Horticulture, but they went to the call center and bottling plant. The Ministry of Education's improvement plan was intended to define and protect field practice as, 'education,' because it was considered to be low-wage labor. Eventually, another accident occurred. The site where students go to work has not changed because allowances changed from wages to field training fees. Therefore, the act of being treated as a low-wage worker on the site has continued, even after the promise of change.

Among the plans proposed in 2017, even some standards that can protect field trainees, dissolved. For example, in January 2019, the Ministry of Education announced a "complementary plan for field training of vocational high schools." It allowed companies that were not selected as a 'leading company,' to receive field training students as the capacity of a 'participating company.' Leading companies are relatively difficult to be chosen as a training site because they must obtain approval from the Office of Education, and certified labor attorneys must accompany them, when inspecting the company's site. However, participating companies only need deliberation by the School Field Practice Steering Committee. As the standards of companies participating in field training became loosened, students began field training at companies with poorer working conditions. The most recent accidental death occurred at a participating company. Despite the government's numerous measures, the reality that students are being driven to train in poor sites, remains the same. Labor organizations are raising their voice about the repeal of the Field Training System. Therefore, it is essential for the government to actively solve field training problems immediately and come up with safety measures that facilitate solutions.

By Park Jung-hyun,cub-reporter  jhgongju0903@gmail.com

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