|POSCO Chairman Choi Jeong-woo speaks during a National Assembly hearing in Seoul, Monday. Yonhap|
Fatalities at mills to weigh on Choi's 2nd term
By Nam Hyun-woo
POSCO Chairman Choi Jeong-woo has apologized again for a series of fatal accidents at mills of the steelmaker in recent months.
He made the apology during a National Assembly hearing Monday, which was held to address growing concerns over Choi serving another term as chief of the steelmaker. POSCO will hold its annual general meeting on March 12, and shareholders will cast ballots to decide whether to keep him for a second term.
"I sincerely apologize to the public for the series of industrial accidents," Choi said during the hearing. "POSCO prioritizes safety and has been investing in workplace safety, but there are still many shortcomings."
Including a Feb. 8 accident that took the life of a 35-year-old contractor, 14 contractors and five POSCO employees have died at work since 2018. Of the 19 fatalities, 14 occurred after Choi's appointment in July 2018, while no fatal accidents occurred in 2017.
Lawmakers criticized POSCO, claiming it is repeating the same apologies after accidents while failing to come up with fundamental resolutions to prevent further tragedies. They also pointed out that POSCO is heavily reliant on contractors, but negligent in improving the contractors' working environment.
"Given the public outrage over the repeated industrial accidents at POSCO, the past three years under Choi's leadership have been a failure," said Rep. Yoon Mee-hyang of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).
Choi said POSCO handles work processes related directly to production while outsourcing other processes, and the reason why it has been mostly contractors falling victim to accidents is because the facilities for outsourcing are old. However, he rebutted the claim that POSCO is outsourcing dangerous work to contractors, saying the company directly handles work regarding gas and other risky tasks.
The hearing comes at a crucial time before the company's annual general meeting, during which shareholders will vote on Choi's second term.
In December, POSCO's board decided to give Choi a second term and put it up for a vote. As fatalities continue to be reported, however, anticipation is growing that the National Pension Service (NPS), which is POSCO's largest shareholder with an 11.2 percent stake, may exercise its influence in this vote in compliance with its stewardship code, which compels the pension operator to be more active and responsible as a shareholder.
Last week, DPK Chairman Lee Nak-yon demanded the NPS exercise its stewardship code in order to guide POSCO to becoming more socially responsible. Along with Lee, a number of lawmakers and civic groups are demanding the NPS exercise its shareholder rights at companies such as POSCO and CJ Logistics, at which a number of delivery workers died on the job last year.
NPS Investment Management said it has yet to reach any conclusions on Choi's second term or recommending an outside director to POSCO.