By Choe Sang-Hun
At a logistics depot in southern Seoul, couriers recently held a ritual at the beginning of another grueling day: they kept quiet for a moment before 15 other messengers who, they say, died this year from overwork.
“We would probably not be surprised here if one of us also falls dead,” said Choi Ji-na, one of the messengers.
Choi, 43, and other delivery drivers in South Korea say they feel fortunate to have a task in emerging unemployment and are proud to play a key role in reducing Covid-19 instances in the country by delivering a record number of packages to consumers who prefer to stay home.
But they pay a price.
The series of deaths among couriers this year has sparked a national protest, drawing attention to the protections of staff that is unevenly distributed in a position that once had one of the longest weeks in the world. Packages are expected to reach the “speed” of a bullet,” however, uninsured personnel who deliver them say it is appropriate to keep up with calls and that adjustments to paint regulations made through President Moon Jae-in have overlooked them.
The messengers are among the toughest and least staffed in South Korea. From 2015 to 2019, only one to four messengers died according to the year. This year, nine couriers died only in the first part of the year.
When Moon reduced the maximum operating week to 52 hours from 68 in 2018 to a “work-life balance” and a “right to rest,” couriers were excluded from the agreement.
Online orders have a higher international level and delivery requests in South Korea have 30% more, reaching 3. 6 billion packages this year, according to some estimates.
Most deliveries to South Korea are treated through giant logistics corporations, which outsource labor to couriers, who are independent contractors who run their own trucks on commission in the assigned areas.
Shopping malls and logistics corporations now promise even faster deliveries, offering options “in the day”, “before dawn” and “ball speed”. But the fees charged via courier have dropped. Workers now consistently get between 60 and 80 cents with package and have been sanctioned for not meeting deadlines.