What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
South Korea is on schedule with Covid-19 vaccination, with nearly 15% of the population having received at least the first of two shots. Major news outlets that once focused on reporting deaths after vaccination (regardless of whether or not a causal link was proven) now seem to have turned a new leaf and are praising Korea’s achievements. In particular, through the cooperation of Korea’s major IT companies, Naver and Kakao, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency has been able, since May 27, to notify the public of leftover vaccine doses each day and allow them to make appointments via mobile apps. People wanting to travel abroad and be free of masks have actively signed up to be vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Daegu Metropolitan City made a splash on May 31, amidst rising demand for vaccines. According to DongA Ilbo, Daegu had sent official letters, signed by the city’s mayor Kwon Young-jin, to major healthcare professionals in the international community in an attempt to acquire more vaccines. The city’s public-private consulting body, called Medicity Daegu Council (MDC), announced on May 31 that it had been in touch with someone who could have the city “connect with Pfizer” and that they had finalized the necessary documentation procedures and the final meeting to purchase “6000 doses” of the Pfizer vaccine.
Kwon has previously criticized the government for accepting Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the United States for Korean military personnel:
How did we become a country that is moved to tears by receiving 550,000 doses of vaccine for the officers and men of the armed forces from the United States?
Mindless politics, incompetent government,
This is not an achievement to celebrate but something for which we should be filled with shame and remorse.
— Kwon Young-jin, Mayor of Daegu Metropolitan City, May 23, 2021.
Therefore, the news about Daegu acquiring vaccines was surprising but in line with the city’s attitude toward the government. While some expressed concern, saying the central government was in charge of purchasing vaccines, others argued that the efforts to procure vaccines should be made on all sides.
Then three days later, on June 3, the Central Disaster Management Headquarters announced that according to Pfizer the company is only supplying vaccines to countries and international organizations and has not authorized any intermediaries to distribute or sell vaccines. The headquarters expressed doubt about the authenticity of the vaccine that Daegu had made efforts to procure and stated that it has no intention to authorize the purchase. They also said that there had been previous proposals made by foreign companies and individuals to supply vaccines to Korea but these had turned out to be either false or improbable. Daegu’s attempt only seemed to have come under the media spotlight because of the mayor’s announcement.
As there was talk of a deposit toward the purchase of the vaccine, the issue became even more controversial.
Then on June 8, 2021, Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin made a statement during his morning briefing:
Recently, what was started in good faith by the city of Daegu and the Medicity Daegu Council to help the government purchase vaccines has become the subject of much social criticism and political controversy, causing a huge stir in our society.
All fault and responsibility for this controversy rests entirely with me, the mayor of Daegu.
On April 28, when the Medicity Daegu Council suggested that the Daegu government send a letter of intent to purchase vaccines, as it would be possible to purchase them from Germany, I told them to consult with the Ministry of Health and Welfare without looking into it in detail.
Then on May 31, at the meeting where Daegu announced a ‘public-private joint statement’ along with representatives of the medical community appealing for people to get vaccinated, I responded to a reporter’s question about the possibility of purchasing vaccines at the local government level and hastily mentioned and exaggerated the issue that was under consideration by the central government, thus stirring up a political controversy.
Due to my careless words and actions, Daegu’s image has been tarnished and I have deeply hurt and disappointed the people of Daegu who are suffering from Covid-19.
— Kwon Young-jin, Mayor of Daegu Metropolitan City, June 8, 2020.
He firmly denied that Medicity Daegu Council had used any of its budget in this incident.
Meanwhile, major Korean IT companies, namely Naver and Kakao, have come under government scrutiny for their working conditions.
It began with the death of a man in his 40s. He was found in an apartment, located near Naver’s headquarters in Seongnam, Gyeonggi-do. He was later identified as a Naver employee who worked in the Naver Maps division.
Upon investigation, the police ruled his death a suicide and remarked that there had been a note regarding stress from work. Then came the speculation about what had driven him to commit suicide. According to credible posts on the Blind app as well as the MBC coverage of the incident, the man’s death was the result of bullying by a Naver executive. The person in question had previously had to leave Naver for abusing his subordinates and had gone to work at Netmarble, a Korean mobile game developer, where he once again bullied his subordinates. In recent years, he had returned to Naver through his connection with Naver’s COO Choi In-hyuk, despite opposition from employees who had worked with him in the past. Even after his return, reports were made regarding his behavior, but they were all ignored, and his bullying eventually led to the death of a programmer.
On June 1, according to The Hankyoreh, the company’s Risk Management Committee recommended a temporary suspension of all duties for all executives involved in the incident, and Naver’s CEO Han Seong-sook accepted the committee’s recommendation.
On June 7, Naver’s labor union also made an official statement regarding the incident:
On May 25, we heard the very sad news about a coworker. On May 28, as we bid the coworker farewell, we vowed to find out the cause of his unjust death. Last week, our labor union conducted an internal investigation… As we conducted the investigation and examined the final days of the deceased, I was very saddened. If there had been a system in place that could stop the excessive workloads, inappropriate work directives, insulting words, and unreasonable work directives, if at the very least the company had properly examined the issues that the workers had already reported, we would not have had to say goodbye to our coworker. We are laborers tasked with planning and developing and operating, but before that we are people. We clearly state here and now: Our work does not include enduring humiliation. … The most important thing is finding out the truth about the incident and preventing recurrences. … to ensure that this kind of tragic incident does not happen again. … We demand severe punishment for those who are found accountable, regardless of their positions in the company. The company should not ‘act the lizard and bite off its own tail for a quick escape’ for dubious reasons or repeat the evil practice of mitigating the circumstances because the responsible person is a main executive and has ‘greatly contributed to the company’.
— Oh Se-yun, head of Naver’s labor union, June 7, 2020.
The Ministry of Employment and Labor announced on June 8 that it would begin a special labor supervision of Naver.
Kakao also faced criticism regarding its work environment after the Ministry of Employment and Labor found that the company had violated a number of articles of the Labor Standards Act, including the 52-hour work week requirement for its employees and no overtime work for pregnant women. The company will be required to rectify the problems and be fined or put on trial accordingly.
Considering that the workers are the main force behind the growth of these IT companies, it will be interesting to see the kind of measures the companies will take to improve their labor conditions.
Lastly, Yoo Sang-chul, a Korean football player and manager, passed away on June 7, 2021, less than two years since he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in October 2019 at the age of 48. Considered one of the best midfielders in the history of South Korean football, Yoo was a member of the Taegeuk Warriors who led the national football team to the semi-finals in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan. He was also the fourth South Korean footballer to be named on the FIFA Century Club.
After retiring from professional football in 2006, he served as a coach and manager for several clubs, the last of which was Incheon United. His most notable mentee is Lee Kang-in, who appeared on the KBS TV show Fly Shoot Dori in 2007 as a six-year-old member of the team. His passing was sad news for the entire football community.
Earlier this year, in January, YouTube channel Touch Play released a series of online documentaries on Yoo. In a couple of episodes, Yoo met with Lee a few months after his cancer diagnosis, and expressed his thoughts on his career, experiences, and life in general.
Regarding football, he revealed a bit of regret about his retirement:
After I retired, I thought, “Ah, I should’ve delayed it by a year.” Because I can’t go and kick the ball on the field anymore. When that thought occurred to me, I was like “Ah, I should’ve played for one more year.” Or actually “I should’ve taken care of my body better.”
— Yoo Sang-chul, South Korean football player and manager, January 8, 2021.
And he also spoke of his dream as a leader in the football industry:
If I can aim for the highest position as a leader in my final years, I want to be the manager of the South Korean national team. And around then, Kang-in would… I don’t know, I guess it’s not too late [to become the manager of the national team]. And when I think about that big picture, it would be really great, don’t you think?
By then, the capacity for more players and the environment and a lot of things would’ve changed. And the South Korean national team accomplished being in the semi-finals in 2002, but by then we could do even better. No one knows what’s going to happen. So I thought about stuff like that. I’d have to get better quick and return to the frontlines.
— Yoo Sang-chul, South Korean football player and manager, January 8, 2021.
Football has lost a shining star, but his legacy will certainly live on in the hearts of many, many fans.