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Continuing death of delivery workers from overwork

 In 2020, the problems of Courier industry have come to the surface due to the continuing deaths of delivery workers from overwork. At the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, the parcel service improvement law was passed, which is also known as the ‘law for preventing the death of delivery workers from overwork’ on January 8, 2021. Everywhere in the Courier industry, while heartbreaking accidents of delivery workers are still going on, reformation of the working environment and new drafting in the companies is happening. Let’s look at the case of delivery workers’ deaths from overwork. Then find out reasons and our society’s coping strategy.

 

The case of delivery workers’ death from overwork in 2020

 On October 12, 2020, Mr.Kim (36) who had been working in the DongDaeMoon-branch of Hanjin Transportation Co. was found dead in his house. It was known when he didn’t come to work without any notice, his colleagues looked for him and found him dead. The National Courier Solidarity Labor Union is proclaiming ‘Obvious death from overwork’ based on the number of his deliveries which was 200~400 parcels in a day. In Mr.Kim’s Kakaotalk messages, he asked for a favor to his colleague not to take some volume, said “When I go home, it’s 5 a.m. I have to eat something, wash and then go to the terminal without sleeping to organize packages again.”, “It’s so hard.” From this, we can see that the intensity of work was higher than usual in the period before his death.

 However, Hanjin said, “He was taking 200 parcels on average which is a little bit lower than the others.” Also, they said “According to the autopsy report from the National Forensic Service, he died of a chronic disease.” while disagreeing with the idea that his death from overwork. But the brother of Mr.Kim refuted this by saying that “I can accept (his death) a little bit if he had been taking medicine or going to the hospital but I know he didn’t have a chronic disease.” About the death from overwork, it is necessary for the bereaved to file papers for an industrial accident and then get recognition from Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service (COMWEL). However, Hanjin rejected the request for needed materials for the process until January 18, 2021. The number of deaths thought to be from overwork in 2020 was 16, and some of them were accepted as industrial diseases which means recognition of death from overwork.

 On December 1, 2020, the July 5, 2020 death of Hyeongwook Seo (47) an employee of CJ Logistics Co. due to acute myocardial infarction was recognized as an industrial accident. Actually, it was known Mr.Seo delivered 300 parcels in a day, 7000 parcels in a month while working 13~14 hour days. COMWEL’s officials said, “In the case of industrial heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, judgment is made based on the working hours for the 12 weeks before the onset date.” And, “In the case of Mr.Seo, the average workweek for 12 weeks before his death was 61 hours, 39 minutes.”

 

Reason of delivery workers’ death from overwork

 The Courier industry has seen explosive growth as the number of deliveries has increased 13.9 times for roughly 20 years. According to the Korea Integrated Logistics Association, there were 200 million deliveries in 2001, which increased to 2.79 billion in 2019. On the other hand, the average unit price of delivery is decreasing. It was about 3,500 won in 2000, but it decreased to 2,269 won in 2019. The Courier cannot be easily differentiated from customer service by the company, so the result is unit price competition. The unit price has been continuously decreasing in most of the years except for one or two years. As a result, the commission, per package, that delivery workers receive has decreased. It was 1,200 won in 2002, and it decreased to 800 won in 2019. In fact, this is closer to 500 won per package when the expenses such as taxes, vehicle depreciation, and oil prices are taken into consideration. Despite the explosive increase in delivery quantities, it seems the decrease in unit prices has led to long working hours without rest for the delivery workers.

 Since companies have started to provide services such as bullet delivery and midnight delivery, customers are spoiled for choice. But from this delivery speed competition, the workers are suffering from labor during the night and long working hours. In an interview with YTN radio, Kyeongho Jin, the chairman of the Overworked Countermeasure Committee for delivery workers said, “What is midnight delivery, this is sugarcoated like it’s a new system, but the delivery worker must stay awake all night.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) affiliated with the WHO has regulated night shift work into a Group 2A carcinogen, while the Occupational Safety and Health Act in Korea calls it a ‘Harmful factor’. For them, it is virtually the same as working against ‘dangerous labor’. Recently on SNS, citizens have said they would boycott delivery services of the logistic companies and online shopping malls that offer dawn delivery if the order is made before midnight. Mr.Choi who was interviewed by Maeil Business Newspaper promised not to use the ‘bullet delivery’ on his SNS in public. He said “The company delivers in front of the door like competition even though it is not necessary right now and the workers send us pictures of the package through text message even it’s 10 p.m.”, “I couldn’t imagine there were workers about to pass out because of the convenience.”

 Most of the delivery workers are classified as a special type of workers, self-employed businesses making contracts with the couriers. So, the 52-hour workweek system does not apply to them, because they are not the type of workers who are protected by the Labor Standards Act. Actually, according to the courier union, their average aggregated workweek is 71 hours, which is much higher than the average workweek, of 40.7 hours, according to the Statistics Korea. There are some voices calling for a guarantee of the 52-hour workweek system among the delivery workers. The chairman, Taewan Kim from the National Courier Solidarity Labor Union had a press interview on September 5, 2019, and said “Lots of stories about the 52-hour workweek system are come out socially, but our delivery workers are living a life that has nothing to do with it”.

 The sorting part of the job, which is pointed out to be a significant factor of working long hours, is one example showing an unfair labor practice. The delivery workers are usually on the contract made of courier-agency-delivery workers and they cannot be affirmed as laborers, but they are not fully categorized as self-employed people, so they need to follow the instructions from the courier. Therefore, they have to sort their packages in the morning before they start delivery. However, they are working for free labor because the courier does not pay the commission for sorting. It is the reason why they work such long hours. They are asserting that the number of sorting-only workers is decreasing. This means the couriers are handing the sorting off to the delivery workers. Significantly, it takes a maximum of 9 hours to do the sorting during the holidays because of the rush quantities.

 

Misunderstanding and truth about the death of delivery workers

 “Should they take a few hundred by force for not getting a commission? Is there any enforcement that citizens don’t know? Isn’t it an individual’s choice?” These are the replies from the article of Money Today ‘Due to the death from overwork of Hanjin delivery worker… “Murder caused by the midnight delivery”’. In the article from Joongang Ilbo ‘“Passed out with eyes open” … Unconscious delivery worker, pitiful testimony’, there were replies such as “Isn’t it a system of getting more income by doing it more. What if they just hire the part-time workers”, “They should have gotten fewer jobs”. Likewise, there are some opinions that delivery workers can modulate their labor intensity because they get commissions per package. Also, the argument about the working intensity caused by the death from overwork is continuing, some people are concerned about it became the problems come from the personal greed to occupy more quantities and increase profits.

 In fact, delivery workers can work without limits if they are able because they are self-employed businesses. However, they refuted these reactions as “Claims do not consider the circumstances on the ground at all”. The officials from The National Courier Solidarity Labor Union said in an interview with Newstop, “It is an impossible structure to modulate the volume randomly by the workers”, and explained it is “because contracts are made by the zone, not by the volume”. As we can be seen from the KakaoTalk message of Mr.Kim who died on October 12, the delivery workers cannot decide how much volume they will take on a day by themselves. The volume is decided by their zone.

 Also, when volume increases rapidly or more than usual, there is difficulty in inserting new temporary manpower. The officials explained, “Even though all of these are solved, it takes too much time for delivery workers to get a license, purchase a car, and finally be inserted into the field.” Therefore, it is the actual circumstance that prevents adding temporary manpower and decides the delivery workers’ workload. Thus, misunderstanding and truth are crossing in some points.

 

Movements for a better working environment for delivery workers

 Due to continuing deaths of delivery workers from overwork, the ‘Overworked Countermeasure Committee for delivery workers’ was launched on July 28, 2020, to protect them. At the press conference on the launching day, this committee declared the reason for the launch: “Overworked Countermeasure Committee is going to announce the real and pitiful situation of delivery workers’ death from overwork to the nation, and demand rapid preparation of measures by the government and couriers.” It is composed of representatives from various organizations including civil, society, religion, health, culture, and arts.

 It asserted that “The death of delivery workers due to overwork is structural murder”, “It needs to insert sorting manpower and be prepared the measurement reducing labor hour to the proper level.” Also, it launched to release difficulties the delivery workers are having, are representing their demands. A press interview was held at the National Federation of Democratic Trade Unions, at Seoul Jeongdong on September 17, 2020, and the committee explained that “Nationally almost 4,000 delivery workers are going to reject the sorting jobs in an upcoming date, 21.” The government announced the ‘Delivery during the peak season of Chuseok is coming to the front of my house safely and smoothly’ plan and brought out the plan of adding sorting manpower, on the same day. Also, the government has been pushing for representation and understanding of delivery workers’ difficulties.

 Despite these efforts, the poor working environments of delivery workers still aren’t improving everywhere in the couriers. The Lotte delivery workers have been holding their ‘Lotte Global Logistics Co. nationwide simultaneous indefinite general strike’ under the lead of the National Courier Solidarity Labor Union to make a breakthrough since October 27, 2020. About 250 workers nationwide, from Seoul, Gyeonggi, Gwangju, Ulsan, and Gyeongnam, participated in this strike.

 A ceremony was held in front of the Seoul Complex Logistics Center in Songpa-gu, Seoul on the first day of the strike and the union has asserted that treatment is getting worse as Lotte has been reducing the commission levels for years. Also, they asserted that Lotte’s ‘Gapjil’ is quite severe when compared to that of other couriers. The union explained, “Lotte Global Logistics Co. is charging a loading-unloading fee to the delivery workers by 100,000 to 200,000 won per month, imposing a ‘penalty’ depending on the same day delivery rate, return collection rate, complaints from the customer, etc.” The union is demanding that Lotte resolve six issues, including restoration of reduced commission, the abolition of loading-unloading fee, total reformation of sorting job, a guarantee of employment, and an end to unilateral zoning. After striking for several days, a provisional agreement was made through negotiation with the company, as a result of voting from the union members, the agreement passed gaining a landslide vote in favor. Accordingly, the delivery workers returned to their work on October 31, 2020. Likewise, delivery workers from some of the other couriers are expressing their opinion in the form of the general strike by shouting that the working environment is unfair.

 

Measures to stop the death of delivery workers from overwork

 The online shopping website, Coupang is hiring delivery workers directly in the name of ‘Coupang friend’. To Coupang friend, it is guaranteed 15 days of annual leave and severance pay including a 52-hour workweek. Also, Coupang is offering four major public insurances and allowing them to get a comprehensive health checkup every year. In particular, concerning the sorting job that has become an issue as a ‘free labor’ of delivery workers, Coupang is operating by hiring about 4,400 ‘helper’ as the manpower for sorting jobs. On October 22, 2020, while the cases of delivery workers’ deaths from overwork were happening, they announced that Coupang is different from ‘general couriers’. Coupang published a press release saying, “All of the Coupang friends are directly hired delivery workers, they are different from Jiipje delivery workers” on that day. In this context, Jiipje is the institution that pays delivery workers after they register their vehicle to the courier and get work from it.

 Furthermore, on October 30, 2020, Coupang declared they were assigned for the trucking transport business application to start a delivery business on the 14th. It said that if they advanced to the delivery business, they will apply Coupang friend’s working environment to their company. The officials from Coupang explained, “While pursuing the best customer satisfaction through delivery business, we are also pursuing the best working environment of delivery workers at the same time.” Finally, on January 12, 2021, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport’s announcement, the application was accepted. From here forward, it is worthwhile paying attention to how Coupang’s working innovation and expansion of the delivery business will affect the courier industry.

 The Living Logistics Service Industry Development Act includes the delivery business registration system, ‘law for preventing the death of delivery workers from overwork’ was passed by the National Assembly on January 8, 2021. This measure that Hongguen Park, the representation of the Democratic Party, initiated, outlines regulations concerning the treatment of delivery workers such as guaranteeing the right to request a renewal for 6 years, recommending writing and using standard contracts, and securing safety facilities. Through the right to request renewal of consignment contract, this Act guarantees the contract of transport for 6 years if there’s no special reason for it to be withdrawn. Also, the suggesting standard contract includes contents like proper working conditions. Assemblyman Mr.Park who proposed this mentioned that “The biggest difference due to the Living Logistics Act is that Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has the right to ask materials and give corrective order to the courier concerning death from overwork.” About this, the Overworked Countermeasure Committee welcomed this action: “This is a meaningful advance with extra clauses about ‘improving the treatment of workers’”.

 However, in some points, it is a shame that the accountability of sorting job which was not fixed through the countermeasure for prevention of death from overwork is not contained in this legislative action. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport tried to improve the situation through an enforcement decree or standard contract to leave in the ambiguity of sorting jobs from the Living Logistics Act and to clarify the job but it had trouble finding an agreement because of the difference between the labor sector and corporations. The Overworked Countermeasure Committee revealed their aspirations by saying, “We will try hard to avoid tumble of Living Logistics Act to the half and falling down into Chaebol Preferential Law through the social consensus.”

 In the middle of this situation, on January 21, 2021, the social consensus institute who discussed the countermeasure of prevention of death from overwork derived the agreement. This institute was launched in early December 2020 with the participation of the Overworked Countermeasure Committee as the labor union official, Korea Integrated Logistics Association as courier official, government, and consumer organizations, etc.

 In the agreement, it excludes the work of sorting from the basic operation range of delivery workers, insisting that the company insert manpower for that work, limiting the working hours of delivery workers to 60 hours per week to prevent the death from overwork. Accordingly, the company finally agreed to bear the cost and take responsibility for the sorting job. The Overworked Countermeasure Committee had the press and welcomed as “It is the day that the workers are liberated completely from the sorting job which had been done as free labor for the last 28 years since the delivery of courier was introduced.” Likewise, the movements for improving the treatment of delivery workers are continuing everywhere in our society.

 

 The reason why the chaos of daily necessities did not occur despite the 2020 COVID-19 epidemic, is because of the stable delivery system and trust of our society in this system. But, behind this situation, there was the pain of delivery workers. Our society is facing problems for the first time after experiencing pitiful accidents of delivery workers’ deaths due to overwork. To overcome these limits, the new systems are coming out and reaching agreements in society, and we need to keep our eyes on how these problems are being overcome.

유정연  wjddus0918@naver.com

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