South Korean workers fed up with bullying are being increasingly emboldened by a new tougher labor law to secretly record alleged abuse or harassment by their bosses, boosting sales of high-tech audio and video devices.
Gadgets disguised as leather belts, eyeglasses, pens and USB sticks are all proving popular with employees in a country where abusive behavior by people in power is so pervasive that there is a word for it — “gabjil.”
Several incidents have made international headlines, most notoriously the 2014 Korean Air “nut rage” case in which the airline’s vice president, Heather Cho, assaulted a crew member over the way she was served macadamia nuts in first class.
Jang Sung-Churl, chief executive of electronics firm Auto Jungbo Co., said covert recording devices “have been selling like hotcakes” since the government flagged changes to the labor laws late last year.
Auto Jungbo Co.’s sales of voice recorders so far this year have doubled to 80 devices per day, Jang said as he forecast sales to also double this calendar year to 1.4 billion won.
Jang, whose company is one of around 20 across the country selling the devices directly and supplying other retailers, said other popular devices included electronic car keys and cigarette lighters.
A 34-year-old aircraft engineer using the Gabjil 119 site shared an audio recording of a man he said was his boss using expletives to berate him for taking leave to take care of a family member suffering an illness.
The gabjil culture in South Korea has been enabled by traditions of deference to status in all walks of life, from schools to family-owned conglomerates.
In brief, South Korea’s labor ministry told Reuters that 572 employees had used the new law to file complaints against their workplace by Aug. 29, averaging 17.9 cases registered each day.