Restroom for All – Excluding You

Restroom for All – Excluding You


Who can oppose to the statement that everyone shall be able to use the restroom when needed?

As an example, segregation of races at restroom seems to be regarded as a violation of
human rights by most of people in Korea. Then, what about gender?
Can every gender in Korea use the restroom without difficulty?


In 2019, it was reported that most construction sites have no restroom for women.
Women construction workers, which is ten percent of workforce in construction industry,
were not provided the restroom nor changeroom. Surprisingly the similar problem of ‘the unavailable restroom’
can be found in many other workplaces.
The cause of unavailability varies. Workers in the service or sales sectors are restricted from
using the restroom because of risk of lowering productivity and of disturbing convenience of
the customers. Workers who need to visit different places cannot have secure access to
the restroom because of the nature of labor which belongs to no specific workplace.

Workers with special gender identity and handicapped workers cannot use the restroom because there is no restroom available to them.


Despite of differences in situations of the workers described above, all of them points that there are someone who

cannot use the restroom which should be available to all. Eventually we can address the problem of ‘unavailable restroom’ only when we reveal and improve the condition that makes people unable to use the restroom. Moreover, this is a human right issue because inaccessibility to restroom dismisses the fundamental need and deprives people of the right to control their own body.


We also need to remember the role of capitalists to create the condition preventing workers
from using the restroom. They put higher priority on the convenience of customers over the human right
of workers, try to control every moment at work, and like to shift the responsibility
on working environment to individual worker. Therefore the problem of unavailable restroom in work
is inseparable from the question on who are included and excluded by this society or the workplaces,
or on what kind of image of workers is assumed in designing the work processes, speed, and production system.


Restroom for All; People who are excluded from the ‘All’


Let’s start discussion on the public restrooms. They are restrooms for all
and ought to be installed where they need to be with appropriate structures, sizes, and numbers.
However, a wheelchair- bound worker has no restroom at all if the workplace has no restroom
for the handicapped people. It is almost impossible to say that a public restroom exists
when a woman needs to stand in a very long queue in public places. There are people
who have been excluded from consideration on the users of public restrooms.
Public restrooms which ought to be for ‘all’ have not yet exist.


Designing public restrooms based on dualized gender system disables LGBTQ people
from using the restrooms. Continuing disability in using the restrooms
brings economic poverty and social marginalization to them.


Gender-neutral restroom has been proposed as a solution.
Some people misunderstand it as an opponent of women’s safety.
But gender-neutral restroom does not mean removal of distinction of gender in the restrooms.
Rather, it means additional space for people who are not included by the dualized gender classification.
It also means a design of public restroom literally for all; for examples, for people
who take care of kids, who are physically handicapped,
and who want to use restrooms without being disturbed by others.


Workers who are unable to use restrooms

Workplaces have various problems related to restrooms. So many workers are unable to access the restrooms.

One of the major causes of difficulty in using the restrooms
is originated from the employers’ desire to keep higher productivity by restricting workers activities.
For example, workers in call centers should leave messages of ‘Leaving

the seat for restroom’ and ‘Back to the seat from restroom’
in the in-house messaging application which everyone can see.
They are able to go to restroom only when they report to or even get permission from the manager.
Employers try to justify this system by arguing that efficiency of work will decrease and numbers of waiting customers will increase if multiple workers go to restroom at the same time.


Workers cannot help feeling uncomfortable to go to restroom under this type of restriction. Actually lots of workers

in call centers suffer from chronic bladder diseases or try to avoid the trouble with managers by not drinking water.


Sales Clerks are suffering from the similar limitation. They are able to go to bathroom

only when the store is not busy and only when permitted.
A survey in 2018 by the Korean Federation of Private Service Workers Union revealed that
59.8% of sales clerks could not have used the restroom during working hours due to lack of time or workforce.
In department stores, workers cannot use the restrooms on each floor since they
are available ‘exclusively for the customers’.
Restrooms for workers are usually installed far away from the shops and equipped
with insufficient number of toilets, making workers more uncomfortable.


While the examples above show the workers who cannot use the existing bathrooms
due to several conditions, there are workers literally suffering from absence of restroom.
The city gas meter person visit each customer’s place to read the gauge and check safety.
Although they enter the house for safety check, it is very hard for them to ask

using the bathroom of the customers. Also it could be problematic in terms of safety of the workers,
majority of whom are women. Public restroom is not available when they work
in the residential areas. As a result, most of the city gas meter person
do not eat nor drink water during working hours. Cystitis is a common health problem.


Meanwhile, the example of women construction workers described above shows not only
the limitation of the 
conventional belief which cannot imagine the presence of women at the construction sites,
but also the problem 
resulting from gender discrimination which has made the need and desire
of women workers insignificant. Those 
employers had ignored the obvious fact that women workers,
ten percent of their employees, need to go to the 
restroom until the union raised the issue.


In June 2019, right after the issue of restroom for women construction workers had become known to the society,

the Ministry of Employment and Labor announced the guideline on washing facilities and restrooms in workplaces.

The first requirement mentioned in this guideline was the separate restrooms for men and women.
The separate restroom for men and women might be helpful for protection of women’s safety,
since so many sexual offences such as rape, voyeurism, and visual recording are committed in restrooms in the workplaces.
However, can it be sufficient for preventing and addressing rampant sexual offenses in daily life and workplace?
Can we prevent sexual offences simply by separating all the public restrooms?
Doesn’t it narrow the scope of problem down to a place where the sexual offences are committed
by ignoring the basic cause and mechanism of them? We rather need strong policy for prevention and punishment of sexual offences.
In addition, we need to remember the separate restroom for two sexes could worsen the inaccessibility by some people such as LGBTQ.


Restroom for All at Work; for Health and Human Right


Issue of restroom at work looks to be simple and plain, but it implies various problems
such as the conventional 
belief on workers and their lives, human right of different workers, and equity at work.


It is extremely uncomfortable if you cannot use restroom at work. You restrict eating and drinking.
You suffer from 
frequent problems in your bladder. You may develop a unhealthy habit
if you need to compensate by eating and 
drinking too much after work, resulting in decrease in physiologic function of your body.


Excretion is not the only purpose of restroom. People take care of their hygiene
by washing their hands and face or exchanging sanitary pads in the restroom.
Public bathroom becomes more important recently for protection and
prevention of contagious diseases.
Mental stress of workers from being suppressed to use the restroom at work is 
another significant problem.


Ultimately, the problems on the restroom at work imply ones on health, human right, and equity of workers.
People who have been excluded from those values ought to be considered
and included in the policies on the restroom and relevant facilities at work.


[Current Issues] Suicide Prevention Policy in Korea from the perspective of worker

Suicide Prevention Policy in Korea from the perspective of worker
– regarding suicide series in Korea Racing Authority 

*This article is modified and English-translated version of Choi, Min. 문중원을 대하는 정부와 공기업의 자세_노동자 자살로 본 자살예방정책. Workplace 2020 Feb;192(2):7-10. 

Marching people saying, 'Save Moon Joong-won'.

In 2018, a total of 13,670 died from suicide in Korea. The suicide rate was 26.6 per 100,000. 37 people commit suicide a day. Three in two hours. Suicide is the number one cause of death from teens to thirties, and second place among deaths in their 40s and 50s. The age-standardized suicide rate of Korea is more than twice the OECD average suicide rate. Besides the highest suicide rate, we should concern that the suicide rate has not been decreasing.
From 2008 to 2018, suicide rates rose 2.4 percent while mortality rates from traffic accidents decreased by 38% (from 14.7 to 9.1 per 100,000). Among 28 OECD countries, between 1985 and 2013, suicide rates have decreased in 20 countries, and Korea is the only country where suicide rates have increased by more than 10 per 100,000. The government has already established the 5-year Strategy for National Suicide Prevention since 2004.
Then, why suicide prevention policy has not been able to reduce suicide in Korea?

A brief history of suicide prevention policy in Korea

After recording the highest suicide rate among 24 OECD countries (24 per 100,000) in 2003, the government established the 5-Year Framework for Suicide Prevention in 2004. According to this statement, the causes of suicide are comprised of both biopsychological and socioeconomic factors, but 80% of those commit suicide having depression. Thus, it stated that an "efficient way of preventing suicide is targeting depression which mediates suicide and can be treated by early detection, because it is difficult to change biopsychological or socioeconomic factors due to limitation of medical science or economic conditions." Therefore, the goal in the framework was to increase counseling and treatment of depression, decrease suicide attempts rates, and lower suicide mortality rates to 18.2 by 2010.
Ignoring the basic background that the suicide rate has exploded in the IMF crisis and the introduction of neoliberalism in Korea, the policy has always focused on 'depression', a medical and mental health problem. Undoubtedly it did not work. The suicide rate, which was 24.0 in 2003, remained at 24.8 in 2007.
The Second Suicide Prevention Plan was announced in December 2008. It evaluated the previous policy was limited to mental health-oriented activity and failed to produce visible results because it did not consider various social factors of suicide. For the first time, the Second Suicide Prevention Plan diagnosed that the sudden increase in suicide rate in Korea was due to the 1997 economic crisis and the 2003 credit card crisis. In particular, it mentioned various socio-economic causes of suicide, such as unemployment, income polarization, household bankruptcy, and weakened social support network, which were not mentioned in the previous plans. Accordingly, suicide prevention policy has become pan-governmental responses led by the Prime Minister’s Office and the government announced that suicide prevention policy would be established through "individual mental health and socioenvironmental approaches."
However, the socio-environmental approach that was declared in the 2nd Suicide Prevention Plan was not attempted properly. The subsequent 3rd Suicide Prevention Plan (2016 ~ 2020) and the National Action Plan for Suicide Prevention, announced in 2018 by the Moon Jae-In Administration as a complementary plan to the 3rd Suicide Prevention Plan, also showed similar limitations. This Plan still pointed out that the nature of Korean suicide is greatly influenced by the unemployment rate, and economic problems have accounted for 23.4% of the direct triggers of suicide, for example, "regional economic downturn" such as downsizing of the shipbuilding industry. However, the action plan reflecting this point was only establishing a support system for high-risk groups such as people receiving welfare aids.
Since 2003, national suicide prevention policy has focused on improving the awareness of suicide, promoting public health and mental health services for preventing suicide, and managing psychiatric high-risk groups such as depression, rather than resolving social causes. This is not a science-based policy, because it ignores the characteristics of suicide in Korea. Obviously, it is hard to expect the effectiveness of policies that neglect the specific nature of the problem and its cause.

Barometer showing limits of suicide prevention policy – Workers’ suicide

Workers’ suicide is a direct indication of the limitations of the suicide prevention policy in Korea. Everywhere in the world, a significant number of suicide deaths occurred in the economically active population, and many of those who commit suicide have jobs at the time of death. Therefore, finding a cause of suicide or preventing suicide at work is a concern of suicide prevention policy. Especially in occupational groups such as farmers, police officers and firefighters who are known to be at high risk of suicide, suicide prevention activities in the workplace are extensive. The high risk of suicide in specific occupations implies that there may be work- related causes of suicide, and preventive action should start from workplaces.
But so far, workers have been left out of the government's suicide prevention policy. In the first and second Suicide Prevention Plans, 'occupation' was not cared at all. In the annual white papers on Suicide Prevention, the analysis of occupations is very simple, showing only the numbers of deaths by occupational groups. In the meantime, the number of workers’ suicide compensated as work- related death by the Industrial Compensation Insurance Act has continued to grow.
Now, the fact was revealed when the Korean government began conducting an in- depth approach to the cause of suicide, including conducting a psychological autopsy and securing police records. According to the ‘2018 Psychological Autopsy Interview Report’, those who commit suicide were having an average of 3.9 stressful events before death, complicated leading to death. Among the stressful events, mental health-related problems were the most common (84.5%), but occupational stressful events were followed by 68%.
In about 70% of suicide cases, at least one of the factors leading to death was an occupational stressful event. These included interpersonal relationships at work, retirement, lay- off, or changes in workload. Another important point is that the ‘workload’ was the most frequent of the first risk factors, the starting point for the suicide path. Even though the direct trigger for suicide is from mental health, the cause of the mental health problem might be work.
To build a science- based suicide prevention policy, interventions in occupational stress must be presented as a key task of the policy, considering occupational stress has been identified as one of the most important stressful events leading to suicide. However, the situation is hardly expected to be improved.

Take a fundamental approach to defeat causes

Look at the late Joong-won Moon, 40, who received a memorial service table at Sejong- ro on Lunar New Year's Day. Moon is a jockey who killed himself in late November, accusing about injustice in the horse race industry. (Related article : KRA exploits jockeys, drives them to suicide) But the publicly owned company, Korea Racing Authority (KRA) has not reacted even a tiny bit. The Ministry of Employment and Labor announced that in relation to workplace harassment, they will supervise even contract laborers, but they have ignored this issue. There is no response from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, which is a supervisory department of KRA, either.
If there is something that the government has learned from the past, it would not be possible to ignore the problem of Gyeongnam Park, one of horse race tracks of KRA, where seven workers including Moon had already committed suicide. Their deaths are not because they had poor horse racing record, they had a lot of debt, or they had impulsive personalities like the government saying. This government's suicide prevention policy is not an effort to provide a human life to those who give up their lives in order to live properly. It only provides a pill to endure an inhuman life. The current approach cannot reduce suicide.
Suicide prevention policy should be much broader in order to have a real effect. In particular, the promotion of workers' rights and health must be included. Otherwise, a "healthy society that is safe from suicide"(the goal declared in the National Suicide Prevention Plan) will not come.

(After this article was written, Joong-won Moon's funeral was held 102 days after his death.)