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Samsung bigwigs jailed for union sabotage

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The world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, Samsung, has found itself deeper in a legal quagmire after the chairman and executive vice president of its flagship subsidiary Samsung Electronics have been jailed for preventing staff from unionising.

Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Sang-hoon and executive vice-president Kang Kyung-hoon were both sentenced to imprisonment for 18 months. The two men were found guilty of leading a project to discourage Samsung consumer service staff from unionising.

South Korea’s largest company has long battled to prevent its staff forming unions, with its founder Lee Byung-chul commenting that unions would only form over his dead body (“until I have dirt over my eyes”). However, the local Suwon authorities took a stand against the electronics behemoth by recognising the National Samsung Electronics Union in November.

According to prosecutors, Lee (who was at the time CFO of Samsung Electronics) and Kang had personally ordered staff to cut the wages of staff who joined unions and investigate details of their personal lives (including pregnancies) in order to gain even more influence over them, as well as by deliberately delaying negotiations.

Another 25 Samsung executives were convicted by the Seoul Central Distract Court for flouting union laws, with seven receiving custodial sentences and others receiving suspended sentences.

Samsung Electronics issued an apology, along with Samsung C&T (whose executives have also been found guilty of violating labour laws), acknowledging the wrongdoing.

“We humbly accept that the companies’ understanding and view towards labour unions in the past fell short of society’s expectations […] we will endeavour to build a forward-looking and productive labour-management relationship based on respect for our employees,” they stated.

Samsung has attracted controversy for its questionable practices, including numerous complaints about the use of child labour in its supply chain, and hundreds of reports of work-related cancers and other illnesses, including illness leading to death. Meanwhile, its deputy chairman and de facto leader Lee Jae-yong is on trial for bribery amid a larger political scandal involving the former President Park Geun-hye.

Samsung is not the only giant tech corporation seeking to prevent its employees unionising to demand better working conditions. Leaders at Amazon and Google have fought employees’ efforts to unionise, with Google this week firing its fifth employee in the space for three weeks for involvement in union activities.

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