SEOUL, March 6 (Korea Bizwire) — Amid nationwide confusion over the distribution of protective masks following the coronavirus outbreak, discrimination over the supply of masks is disheartening many.
Hyundai Motor Co., while giving out proper dust-prevention masks to regular workers, distributed ‘mouth warmers’ to irregular employees.
“You can’t just make irregular workers hold hammers and come up with automobiles,” said the Korean Metal Workers’ Union in a statement. “They should not be subject to discrimination based on the tools they use and the work they do.”
In response, Hyundai explained that the company is not obligated to give out masks to subcontractors.
Last month, South Korea’s state post agency Korea Post gave out masks to all regular staff except for parcel delivery subcontractors, who eventually received the masks after a public backlash.
Discrimination was also rampant in Daegu, the epicenter of the coronavirus spread, particularly against foreigners.
A local media outlet reported earlier this week that a Taiwanese national, who was born and lived in Daegu for 49 years, was excluded from the first round of mask distribution.
Foreigners have been excluded due to shortages of protective masks, the city of Daegu explained.
“Foreigners who have their address registered in the city will receive masks. Foreigners not registered as a household in Daegu will receive masks from local companies,” said Kwon Young-jin, mayor of Daegu.
Jeju Island, which has temporarily shut down its visa waiver entry for foreigners, is also facing a similar situation.
“I went to a local pharmacy after I ran out of masks. The staff there didn’t seem so enthusiastic about selling masks to me,” said a Chinese student studying at Jeju University. “It’s not fair to be discriminated against just because I’m Chinese.”
Experts say that is important for Korean society to reflect on its ‘wrongdoings’ when the coronavirus is contained.
“The right to health is universal. It should not be placed under discrimination based on status or organization,” said Prof. Koo Jeong-woo from Sungkyunkwan University.
“Efforts should be made to ensure the rights of foreigners and irregular workers stay protected.”
H. M. Kang (firstname.lastname@example.org)