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(LEAD) Authorities step in to improve labor conditions of parcel delivery workers

All News 14:21 November 12, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, comments in paras 9-10, 19-20; CHANGES photo)
By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Nov. 12 (Yonhap) -- The government said Thursday it will consult with logistics companies to improve the labor conditions of parcel delivery workers and crack down on unfair practices, in response to public outcry over a recent series of deaths blamed on overwork.

The ministries of labor and transport jointly announced a series of measures for deliverymen who often work long hours without enough breaks to handle an increased workload amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"(The government) will recommend logistics companies set the maximum hours of daily work for delivery workers in accordance with their workload," Labor Minister Lee Jae-kap said in a briefing.

A courier of CJ Logistics sorts parcels at a logistics center in Seoul on Oct. 22, 2020. (Yonhap)

The government said it will limit delivery services after 10 p.m. for daytime couriers and recommend their employers adopt a five-day workweek.

According to a couriers' advocacy group, 14 parcel delivery workers have died this year in cases related to overwork, as the virus outbreak triggered a surge in online shopping and parcel volumes.

Except delivery workers who are directly hired by companies, such as e-commerce company Coupang, many couriers receive fees per parcel, with the average rate around 800 won (US$0.72) as of 2019, according to the government.

Labor unions of deliverymen claim many workers toil six days a week, taking on hourslong extra tasks, such as categorizing items and loading them onto trucks, in addition to delivering the parcels to homes.

They say the long working hours of couriers could lead to accidents, and even deaths, and do not align with the government's 52-hour workweek scheme.

The average working hours of parcel delivery workers were estimated at 12.1, with the time needed for classifying parcels accounting for 3-4 hours, the ministry said, calling for companies to hire more workers and improve the delivery infrastructure.

"We will form a consultative body to prevent parcel delivery workers from overwork, beginning discussions on key issues, including a five-day workweek, improvement of pricing and a contract system," Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said. "To enhance the labor conditions of delivery workers, (companies) should additionally hire staff for sorting, invest in infrastructure and pay appropriate rates for them."

The government said it will also push for expansion of industrial insurance for couriers to protect them in case of accidents, and set guidelines for their health care.

Parcel delivery workers are among 14 types of special contract workers subject to industrial insurance, but they can opt out of the benefit.

Some employers exploit the system to pressure couriers to opt out of insurance, often leaving them unprotected in case of work-related accidents.

The labor ministry said it will inspect about 16,000 couriers who opted out of industrial insurance to figure out whether their employers pressured them to save costs, and it will revoke the licenses of those who violated the law.

Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee (L) and Labor Minister Lee Jae-kap announce measures to improve the labor conditions of parcel delivery workers during a briefing at the Seul government complex on Nov. 12, 2020. (Yonhap)

In response to the growing criticism over overwork among deliverymen, logistics companies have scrambled to come up with measures to lessen their burden.

Industry leader CJ Logistics Co. last month pledged to hire 4,000 more workers in phases to handle only the sorting of parcels and set an appropriate daily workload.

Lotte Global Logistics Co. said it will add 1,000 more workers in phases to sort parcels, adjust the volume of deliveries per worker and provide workers with insurance for industrial accidents.

Hanjin Transportation Co., the logistics arm of Hanjin Group, suspended overnight parcel delivery services earlier this month, becoming the first local company to take such action to help prevent overwork among deliverymen.

The domestic parcel delivery market is expected to be valued at 7 trillion won this year, up 14.3 percent from a year earlier, the transport ministry said, estimating the total number of parcels this year to be 3.2 billion.

CJ Logistics holds a strong lead with nearly 50 percent of market share, followed by Lotte Global Logistics, Hanjin and Korea Post, the national postal service.

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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