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  • 작성자 사진Yu Woo-sang

[World] The Death of a Cleaning Worker at Seoul National University

No.153 / Sep 6, 2021

On June 26, 2021, a woman in her fifties was found dead cleaning the dormitory of Seoul National University (SNU). The cause of death was presumed to be myocardial infarction. However, there was a controversy regarding the abuse of power at SNU at that time. On June 1, the new head of the safety management team conducted written tests that contained questions on aspects not directly related to the work-such as when the buildings were completed, and accurate names of the person’s organization in English and Chinese-and revealed the scores to everyone.

At first, SNU claimed that there was no abuse of power, saying that the media reports were different from the facts. An administrative official at SNU’s dormitory said, regarding the controversy over the written test: “I acknowledge that the test must have been embarrassing or seen as bullying in the workplace. But the cleaning worker told the team leader that it was a good time because she had received job training for the first time in two years.” Regarding the allegations that he humiliated the employees and caused insult and stress by disclosing the test scores, he claimed that this did not happen.

However, the husband of the deceased cleaning worker refuted the SNU’s claim that there had never been power abuse. He said: “I heard my wife say since last month, the team leader has changed and that they are under military management, and I felt that my wife’s work must be very hard.” In addition, cleaning workers at SNU’s dormitory confirmed that there was power abuse, such as a notice regarding the dress code to attend the meeting and written tests.

On July 8, SNU commissioned the case to the human rights center at the university and ordered the head of the management team to work in other departments until a conclusion was reached. However, SNU rejected the request of the labor union and the bereaved, including the formation of a consultative group to improve the labor environment, and for the institution to offer an apology to the bereaved family, saying that it should wait for the results of the investigation. In particular, they said: “We feel personally sorry for the bereaved family, but it is unnecessary to apologize at this stage.” In response, the SNU Student Council and the Graduate School Student Council claimed that they should acknowledge responsibility for the death of a cleaning worker and apologize officially, and they issued a statement and campaigned for the cause.

Eventually, on July 30, the Ministry of Employment and Labor announced that it judged the written tests and harsh actions against the SNU cleaning workers as harassment at the workplace and demanded immediate improvement. On August 5, SNU officially apologized for the incident. Even after the apology, discussions on the need to improve the treatment of workers have continued.


By Yu Woo-sang, AG Reporter

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