3 S. Korean couriers die from overwork this month

Posted on : 2020-10-19 17:26 KST Modified on : 2020-10-19 17:26 KST
Chuseok holidays and ongoing pandemic contribute to massive backlogs
Members of the Committee for Countermeasures to Combat Overwork Deaths among Delivery Workers mourn five delivery workers who died from overwork in a march in Seoul on Sept. 17. (Yonhap News)
Members of the Committee for Countermeasures to Combat Overwork Deaths among Delivery Workers mourn five delivery workers who died from overwork in a march in Seoul on Sept. 17. (Yonhap News)

Yet another delivery worker died on Oct. 12 after apparently being subjected to long working hours, it has belatedly been reported. It marked the third delivery worker death this month alone. Growing calls are emerging for special measures in areas such as staffing support for delivery sorting duties in order to protect the health rights of workers who have been enduring murderous workloads amid the combination of the Chuseok holiday peak season and the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to accounts on Oct. 18 from Hanjin Express and the National Courier Solidarity Labor Union, a 36-year-old delivery driver surnamed Kim with Hanjin Express’ Dongdaemun branch in Seoul was found dead in his home on Oct. 12. Kim was reportedly discovered dead by coworkers who went to his residence that day after he did not show up for work. Surviving family members and the union attributed the death to “overwork.” As with other delivery workers who die from overwork, Kim’s cause of death was listed as “cardiovascular disease.” Acquaintances reported that he’d been struggling with exhausting workloads in the time leading up to his death.

According to information shared the same day by the Committee for Countermeasures to Combat Overwork Deaths among Delivery Workers, Kim sent a KakaoTalk message to his coworkers at 4:28 am on Oct. 8. “I’ve done 420 [deliveries] today, and I’m going home now,” he wrote at the time.

“By the time I get home it’s 5:00. I eat, wash up, and then it’s back to the terminal where I have to organize items without a wink of sleep. [. . .] It’s been really difficult,” the message continued. The intense working conditions appear to have persisted for several days at least, with other messages from Kim reading, “Is it OK for #16 not to receive [their package]?” and “I got home at 2 am again yesterday.”

The union explained, “Because Hanjin Express has a single courier covering a wider area, the intensity of the work is double the level at other delivery companies like CJ Korea Express even when the volume is the same.”

Hanjin Express maintains worker died from chronic illness

But Hanjin Express maintained that an “autopsy by the National Forensic Service determined that the deceased passed away from chronic illness.” It also said that Kim “was typically in charge of around 200 deliveries, which is slightly lower than the levels for other couriers.” At the time, it acknowledged that Kim’s volume was at “over 300 deliveries” as of Oct. 8, when he sent his KakaoTalk message. While this differed from what the message claimed, it also reads as an admission that Kim’s workload was higher than its normal level at the time. According to information received from the Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service (K-COMWEL) by Democratic Party lawmaker Yangyi Won-young, Kim had been working in a “blind spot,” with no employment report or industrial accident insurance enrollment despite his having been with the Hanjin Express branch for 15 months.

Kim’s death brings the number of delivery drivers who are believed to have died from overwork this year to 10. On Oct. 8, a delivery driver in his 40s with CJ Korea Express died while carrying out deliveries; on Oct. 12, a day laborer in his 20s who had been sorting items at a Coupang logistics center in Chilgok County, North Gyeongsang Province, passed away.

“Three people have died already since the Chuseok holiday, and we have no way of knowing what other tragedies are in store,” said Han In-im, secretary-general of the organization Work and Health.

“Even if we establish legal and institutional measures in the intermediate to long term, we also urgently need staffing assistance with the sorting duties that couriers are currently providing as free labor for six to seven hours a day,” Han urged.

“We should also actively consider not having Saturday deliveries for the time being,” she suggested.

Distrust toward the South Korean government has been growing amid a failure to properly implement its instructions to delivery companies to ensure adequate support staff during the peak Chuseok season. According to the union, little of the initially promised sorting support was provided, with workers only assigned for loading and unloading duties.

By Choi Won-hyung and Kim Kyung-rak, staff reporters

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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