Rival parties fine-tuning push to give small firms grace period from workplace safety laws

Rival parties said Thursday they were fine-tuning a bill that would grant small businesses an additional two-year grace period from the workplace safety law penalizing employers for serious industrial accidents. Should the negotiations go well, the bill could pass through a plenary meeting of the National Assembly later Thursday. Under the Serious Accidents Punishment Act, company owners or CEOs with 50 or more employees face a minimum of one year in prison or fines up to 1 billion won (US$749,000) in cases of fatal on-duty disasters caused by inadequate workplace safety measures. Following a two-year grace period, the expanded application of the law to businesses with fewer than 50 employees began last Saturday. Amid concerns over possible strain on smaller firms, the ruling People Power Party (PPP) and the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) have engaged in negotiations on the revised bill aimed at postponing the implementation for another two years. In an unexpected gesture, the PPP has accepted the DP's demand to newly set up a government agency on industrial safety as a precondition for the two-year delay. "Our proposal is to delay the Serious Accidents Punishment Act for another two years and also to inaugurate the agency two years later," PPP floor leader Yun Jae-ok told reporters Thursday. The DP, which controls the National Assembly with a majority of seats, announced it will hold a party meeting in the afternoon before the scheduled plenary session to discuss the PPP's proposal. "We are currently working on the final negotiation with the ruling party," said a DP official, speaking on the condition of customary anonymity, adding that there is a possibility an agreement will be reached before the plenary session. Earlier in the day, the presidential office also stated it is reviewing the establishment of the agency. Despite the law's intended purpose to guarantee workers' safety, concerns have been raised as the number of on-duty disasters has not decreased since the law took effect and it lack s clarity in defining the criteria for punishment. The PPP and owners of companies with fewer than 50 employees, constituting about 80 percent of all serious accidents, have demanded an additional grace period. They have cited a lack of preparation due to limited conditions, such as an economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the fact that the incrimination of an employer can eventually lead to business closure. The DP and the labor circle, meanwhile, stated that the government has wasted the last two years without suggesting a detailed road map and failed to come up with measures to protect the workers. Source: Yonhap News Agency