SEOUL, March 9 (UPI) -- South Korean automaker Hyundai Motors is accused of discriminating against subcontractors while handing out free face masks to employees amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The automaker is accused of giving high-quality, protective face masks to regular employees, while only distributing "mouth warmers" to subcontractors, according to a statement from the Korean Metal Workers Union. Mouth warmers are thought to be ineffective in preventing the spread of the virus.
"Hyundai does not care about the health of its [subcontractor] workers," the union said in a statement.
South Korea reported more than 7,478 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Monday.
Hyundai responded to the union statement by saying that it has no obligation to distribute face masks to irregular workers hired by its subcontractors.
However, the union claims Hyundai must provide for the safety and health of its subcontractors by law. Last month, a Seoul district court came up with a similar verdict in another case.
Earlier this month, the Korea Post -- South Korea's postal service company -- faced backlash after it provided masks to its regular employees, but not to subcontractors in charge of delivering packages.
There is much debate on whether face masks can even protect people from contracting COVID-19. But the South Korean government has nevertheless encouraged citizens to wear masks, which are short in supply as people panic-buy them en masse.