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Overweight? Here’s the pink slip

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Sangmin Lee

A 31-year-old researcher at an electronic parts company filed an appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) about his resignation due to stress from coercive weight reduction pressure from his company in July 2010.

As soon as he joined the firm last April, he was classified one of five obese employees and forced to join an exercise program. The company conducted employees’ physical checkups and required them to do mandatory daily jogging in the wake of the examination. In addition, the company’s vice-president ordered department directors to monitor slimming efforts and send updates via email and urged obese employees to submit resignations in advance in case they failed to meet the target weight loss.

The company refuted these claims, denying the fact that the company forced employees to reduce their weight, and argued that participation in those activities was voluntary and for leisure. Rather, the company insisted that it provided a wide variety of activities as part of its long-term health-benefits for employees.

However, the NHRCK determined that the applicant’s resignation was made while being under excessive pressure. Penalizing overweight employees for failing to lose weight is employment discrimination based on personal appearance. In this sense, the NHRCK ordered the company to pay five million KRW (4,480 USD) in compensation and recommended measures to prevent any similar recurrence.

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Free medical care… only exist in Utopia?

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Minhee Park

Encouraged by the electoral success of its compulsory school meal policy scheme in 2010, the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) in Korea has revealed a plan to offer free medical services for the entire population. Together with the DP’s proposals for free child care, decrease in college tuition fees, and a compulsory school meal policy, the proposal for free medical services is stocking up a growing debate on welfare.

The Democratic Party’s health care plan demands for raising the coverage of medical bills by the National Health Insurance from the current 62% to 90% over the next five years. It would also lower the ceiling for out-of-pocket payments by patients from the current 4 million won to 1 million won(1,000-3,000 USD), while extending the National Health Insurance’s reach to cover some 2.4 million low-income people who are currently excluded.

The Democratic Party estimated that the new scheme for free medical service would increase the National Health Insurance’s annual expenditure by 8.1 trillion won. According to the new plan, this spending growth of National Health Insurance can be covered by collecting more premiums from employees at companies and by increasing the government’s fiscal support.

The Democratic Party’s proposals come at a time, when the demands for reform to the health care system are growing. Korea’s health insurance system has been touted as an efficient, low-cost program to provide health care to the public. However, the current Korea’s health insurance system has its limitations. For instance, the rate of patient’s co-payment is high, a range of non covered services is broad, and low income residents are excluded on the list of the beneficiaries of medical insurance. The Democratic Party’s proposal is intended to modify these weaknesses.

The Grand National Party (GNP), the ruling party, presented a counter-argument against the DP’s free medical care proposal. The governing Grand National Party has been criticizing the DP for raising the specter of populism. The GNP based their counter-argument on the problem of sustainability of the health insurance system related to the budget problem of the National Health Insurance Corp.

The National Health Insurance Corp. presented on 3rd January 2011 that the National Health Insurance Corp. ran a 1.3 trillion won budget deficit in 2010. This year’s budget deficit is expected to be cut to 500 billion won due to a 5.9 percent increase in contributions. However, budget shortfall is forecasted to mount up gradually due to the social phenomenon, like rapid population aging, expansion of coverage, introduction of expensive medical equipment and demand for better health services.

As an objection of the opinion of Grand National Party, Dong Young Jeong, who is the member of the supreme council in the DP, insisted that the introduction of taxation of the wealthy is inevitable to run the welfare policy. In addition, he added that “If the government levies taxes on the top 0.5% income bracket, over 10 trillion won would be secured as tax revenue. Furthermore, over 20 trillion won would be secured as governmental finances in the process of enforcement.” The Democratic Party suggested that the middle class of the society would be have the same opinion about the new plan for health care.

According to International Covenant on Economic, Social and Culture Rights (

The presenters presented their subject in Korea Economic Research Institute (KERI) forum naming “A ripple effect and task of free welfare policy series” which was held at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) on 9th February 2011. <Yonhap News Agency>

) article 12, the states parties to the present covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. In addition, the article 2 of ICESR says that each state party to the present covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.

The citizens in Korea are wondering on how the two parties would compromise in free medical care debate and how the national assembly of Korea would adapt the international standard of right to health care to their system of health care.

NHRCK Prohibits Discrimination Based on Health

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

By: Yuri Yi

On December 31, 2010, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has advised the chief of hospital X, name not stated for protection purposes, to remedy his decision of refusing to hire a medical laboratory technologist on the basis of being positive for Hepatitis B.

Mr. B, who remains anonymous for his protection, was disqualified from the hiring process due to his medical condition and petitioned NHRCK to have hospital X withdraw the decision. He said, although I passed all the tests including the final interview, my carrier state disqualified me from the job.”

On the other hand, hospital X argued that “we couldn’t help limiting his employment because the disease is contagious. Due to the nature of the job of a medical laboratory technologist such as managing blood of patients, he was an improper applicant.”

However, NHRCK judged that “It is an excessive limitation to reject him for the reason of infectiousness. According to the opinion of specialist, hepatitis B is an illness not easily caught through normal cohabitation, if there is no blood or sexual contact. Working in hospital with people belongs to the case of normal cohabitation.”

One of the officials at NHRCK explained that,a hospital would be able to prevent dangerous situation from happening by letting Mr. B obey the pollution prevention regulations like other medical laboratory technologists. There are enough alternatives such as temporary suspension of duty which might be able to transmit the virus through blood.”

Mr. B has work experience at a hospital in Gangwon Province, Korea.