Since the Chuseok holiday, delivery services across the nation have seen increasing delays. This is because the volume of parcels requiring shipment has grown rapidly as online consumption increased due to COVID-19. Between February and July of this year, the number of deliveries reached about 1.65 billion, a 23 percent surge as compared to the same period last year. Due to the massive workload, 15 delivery people died this year. This has left many wondering what the problems are. Wages for the services remain low and they are paid per piece delivered, encouraging them to deliver as much as they can to earn a decent living. While this seems reasonable, there is a huge amount of their work that remains unpaid. Delivery people are not paid for the sorting of packages, that must be done before their deliveries even take place. This unpaid labor is the single biggest source of contention for drivers. In can take them up to 10 hours to complete sorting packages, before they even leave the building for their runs. Workers have repeatedly called on employers to add additional help, but the requests have fallen on deaf ears. This has led some driver to hire their own part-timer workers, at their own expense, to help in the sorting process.
|▲ A message sent by the deceased Hanjin courier worker at 4:30 a.m. (Photo from JTBC News)|
The topic of working hours came to head last month, a courier from Hanjin died at home from being overworked. According to a Kakao Talk message released by the Countermeasure Committee for Overworked Delivery Workers, four days before his death, the deceased sent his coworker a text saying, "I handled 420 deliveries today," and "I got home at 2am yesterday.” In another case, a courier from Korea Express collapsed while resting in a lounge at the hub terminal in Gonjiam, Gyeonggi-do. He was taken to hospital but eventually died. According to his work records, confirmed by the committee through the bereaved family, the deceased came to work at 2pm on the 18th and left work at 12pm on the 19th. He went back to work at 5pm and collapsed at 11:50pm He had been dealing with a hard work schedule, with only five hours of rest after 22 hours of continuous work and then 31 hours of work again.
The average weekly working hours of couriers is 71.3 hours, 1.9 times higher than the average domestic worker. On the other hand, their actual income is lower than minimum wage. About 40,000 to 50,000 courier workers are not properly guaranteed employment, safety and rest. The Union of Delivery Workers has been fighting for passage of the Last Mile Delivery Service Industry Development Act in order to obtain improvements in the treatment of delivery persons. More than 2,000 workers were calling for the swift passage of the Act and for the government to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) convention in 2019. The delivery workers union has also been trying to tackle the legislation’s blind spots such as the lack of mandatory industrial accident coverage for couriers.
|▲ The courier delivery workers' campaign team is holding a picket requiring to improve the working environment. (Photo from Labour and World)|
Many people support better treatment of delivery workers. Youtube content creators are uploading video tributes for delivery people, called ‘Yeok-Jo-Gong’. They prepare gifts of snacks, candy, cold drinks, and chocolate for the drivers. Some also ordered meat, massage devices, red ginseng, and other items for delivery people hanging messages outside their door saying, “This is for you. Please take the parcel home.” At first, the couriers were confused and left the boxes behind, forcing the bearer to chase after them and insist they take it. The entire exchange is recorded and uploaded to YouTube for viewers to appreciate. In the comments section under the videos posted, some workers wrote thank you notes for the free gifts. There are also social media campaigns to lift the spirits of delivery drivers underway called #DeliveryWorkersCheerUp! During this campaign, TikToK users created videos for delivery people in an effort to brighten their day. About 5,000 people participated and the video hits earned over 5.4 million views. The TaekBae Union also got involved in the campaign to boost the morale of couriers. They distributed paper cards for you to hang on your doorknob with hopeful messages for delivery workers. The TaekBae Union is also managing a ‘Delivery Worker Health Disorder Center’ a service that is clearly needed. A union representative said, “In 2020, already 9 workers collapsed due to overwork.”
Democratic Party leader Lee Nak-yeon pledged to deliver new legislation governing the workload of delivery service people. The Dankook Herald spoke with Sohn Joo-Hong, CEO of Jiyul Labor Corporation, to learn more about the proposed new Act. He pointed out that the new law could establish a foothold for a better working environment for drivers, which would nip the problems of being overworked in the bud. Under the proposed law, companies would be obligated to guarantee a couriers' safety under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. However, the real problems result from the delivery workers not being protected by the laws in Labor Standards Act. Many couriers are private contractors who sign consignment contracts with agents or companies for the delivery of their products. These employees are a ‘special-class’ of workers and are not covered by the Labor Standards Act. Mr. Sohn said, “Expanding the range of workers protected under the Labor Standards Act is difficult, but the scope of protection under the Occupational Safety and Health Act has recently extended their coverage to include special-class couriers, so it will be effective in preventing the problems of being overworked.” He also pointed out that the contracting practice between agents and companies is arbitrary making the working conditions of couriers inconsistent and in some cases, costly. Companies can demand penalties for any damages that occur during delivery. Some companies have also gradually reducing shipping fees per delivery leading couriers to work longer hours to compensate for their income reductions. There is also the problem of drivers applying for exclusion from the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act. Sohn speculates this is done under coercion by employers. Premiums for full time delivery workers are paid for by the employer, but for those who operate as independent contractors, the courier must pay 50 percent of the fees, while the employer pays the rest. This expense is likely the reason why many delivery workers apply for exclusion. In fact, only 20% of couriers are signed up for the insurance. As a result, when something happens, they cannot be properly compensated for their injury and required recovery expenses.
Sohn finished the interview saying, “COVID-19 highlighted the problem of overworked couriers, but it has always been a problem. The deaths may be an opportunity to learn about the hardships and challenges of the workers, but we hope that you will pay attention to the labor laws because anyone around us can be a victim of its hardships.”
Delivery workers have long suffered from being overworked. They provide us with an essential service, so it is clear that we must pay attention to their working conditions and calls for change. They have a right to earn an honest living in a safe environment. The social safety net should be strengthened to prevent any more deaths. With a few revisions to the law, we can better protect our vulnerable, but essential, delivery workers.
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