Why do construction companies exclude skilled workers and prefer unskilled workers?

On November 9, the amendment to Articles 2 and 3 of the Trade Union Act passed the plenary session in the 21st National Assembly, which had been in a state of constant conflict. The bill passed at the plenary session leaves a procedure for the President to promulgate it within 15 days from the date it is transferred to the government. However, the government and ruling party have already hinted at the President’s veto of the revised Trade Union Act.

Not only the government and the ruling party, but also the business community and conservative media are unanimous in threatening that if the revised Trade Union Act is implemented, “labor-management relations will collapse” and “illegal strikes will become rampant.”

As such, conservative forces are intent on distorting and denigrating the meaning of the revised Trade Union Act. We have only taken one step toward achieving the three labor rights of all workers. Indirectly employed and specially employed workers tell us in their own voices why the immediate promulgation of the revised Trade Union Act is necessary.

▲Gwangju Hwajeong I-Park Complex 2, where the exterior wall of the building collapsed on January 11 last year. ⓒPresian (Han Ye-seop)

‘Real CEO Responsibility Act’ is a shortcut to ‘direct construction’ and ‘eradicating poor construction’

# 1. At the construction site of a new frozen and refrigerated warehouse that stores fresh food, urethane foam spraying is essential. However, would the worker spraying urethane on the second basement floor know that metal cutting work was being done to install a freight elevator on the same floor, causing sparks to fly? Likewise, could workers on the first, second, third, and fourth floors know that dangerous work was taking place at the same time? On April 29, 2020, at around 13:32, the contractor, ‘Geonwoo’, knew that urethane foam work and metal cutting work were being carried out simultaneously at the new construction site of the Han Express Namicheon Logistics Center in Icheon-si, Gyeonggi-do.

# 2. Would the construction workers who were in charge of windows, plastering, and firefighting equipment work on the 28th to 31st floors know that pouring work was being carried out on the 39th floor with the supports having been removed early? HDC Hyundai Development Company, the contractor, knew. This is why HDC Hyundai Development Company is held responsible for the accident in which most of the 23rd to 38th floors of the new I-Park apartment collapsed at approximately 3:46 pm on Tuesday, January 11, 2022.

No matter who sees it, shouldn’t it be the main contractor or general construction company that oversees the construction and safety at the construction site? It is a matter of the construction company taking responsibility for the construction, but construction sites have a multi-layered, multi-level subcontracting structure. Construction costs are reduced through multi-level subcontracting, and risks and resulting responsibilities are passed down. This is clearly evident in the collapse of a demolished building in Hak-dong, Dong-gu, Gwangju on June 9, 2021. It is legal for the main contractor, HDC Hyundai Development Company, to even award a contract to a professional construction company. On the other hand, at the collapse site, subcontracting took place. In the process, the demolition construction cost, which was about 280,000 won per 3.3㎥, was drastically reduced by about half to around 100,000 won, and it was further reduced to a minimum of 40,000 won.

law of contract

Contracting is completely disadvantageous for workers and advantageous for construction companies. Construction companies can escape all kinds of responsibility, but workers face all sorts of risks. There are even situations where workers have to fight among themselves. This piece-rate structure, combined with competition in labor costs, deteriorates working conditions. For example, if you give 1 million won to 10 people, 100,000 won each, there is nothing left. However, if you give 90,000 won to 10 people each, you can end up with 100,000 won. This is contract work. As the number of contracts increases, the amount of money left over increases and the workers’ share decreases. People who need money to survive right now have no choice but to stick to work, even if it means low wages, long hours, and hard work, no matter how much money they have left over.

The target of repression against the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions construction union is

The labor union advocates direct employment and direct construction. This means that construction companies should hire workers directly rather than middle contractors such as Sidaukkae and Oyaji, and that the so-called conglomerate construction companies should do the work themselves instead of subcontracting. In extreme cases, only construction workers wearing vests belonging to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and Construction Union were directly employed. As the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) construction union grew, the multi-level subcontracting structure at construction sites became simpler, and occupational safety and health management costs paid off without leaking. In the end, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ suppression of the construction union is like telling mid-level contractors to install as much as they want ahead of the general election.

The link between union suppression and poor construction

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ Construction Union conducted a survey targeting 2,511 construction workers over two days starting August 7, 2023. On-site workers absolutely cited △illegal contracting (73.8%) and △excessive speed (66.9%) as the reasons for the successive poor construction. What is noteworthy is that after the Yoon Seok-yeol administration, most respondents answered that the state of architecture was very poor (32.5%) or poor (31.7%). Working hours increased (56.6%) and occupational safety and health conditions became dangerous (64.8%).

Above all, 84.7% of respondents said that the number of undocumented migrant workers has increased since the Yoon Seok-yeol administration. In the case of the underground section, the ratio between unregistered migrant workers and the remaining workers was 7 to 3 or 8 to 2, and in the above-ground section, it was 9 to 1 or 10 to 0, meaning that the number of sections where only unregistered migrant workers work has increased significantly. . This corresponds to the response that the employment status of skilled workers is very unstable (76.5%) since the Yoon Seok-yeol administration. We need to look closely at the context to see how this leads to poor construction.

Just finish the quantity… Skilled workers driven by speed

The construction workers who responded to this survey are frame carpenters, rebar workers, and other structural workers who are the skeleton of a building. Construction workers believe that the job requires skill (97.5%) and that it takes 3 years (34.4%) to 5 years (31.3%) to become a skilled worker. To become a skilled worker, one must have construction skills (68.8%), be able to read drawings (59.9%), and have responsibility for sound construction and an awareness of industrial safety (53.9%). Above all, the predominant response was that skilled workers can point out poor construction and make improvements when they witness it.

Nevertheless, why are skilled workers excluded from the field? The survey asked whether construction companies were under pressure to shorten the construction period. 89.4% of respondents said they were forced to engage in speed warfare. Many responses said that the construction period at the site should be delayed by about 30% (31.2%) due to the tight construction period. In other words, unregistered migrant workers who work hard for long hours to ‘kill unconditional quantity’ and ‘kill unconditional quantity’ are preferred over skilled workers who will keep poor construction in check and drive high-quality construction on site.

This is also the result of further encouraging the practice of ‘overexploitation’, in which construction companies take advantage of the instability of migrant workers’ status and exploit unskilled migrant workers at low prices. For example, construction companies force workers to work quickly, even if they tie the rebar knots loosely or under-tied, rather than tying all the knots tightly. This leads to poor construction and threatens not only the safety of unskilled workers but also the safety of citizens.

The real boss must take responsibility for construction to eradicate poor construction.

Ultimately, in order to guarantee the right to work safely and healthily, the main contractor at the top of the multi-level subcontracting structure must be held accountable to the user for a comfortable living environment for citizens. This is why Articles 2 and 3 of the Trade Union Act must be revised. Old answers, repeated answers, and other answers are answers that do not exist.

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