The South Korean government is pushing for shorter workdays and other improved working conditions for parcel delivery couriers, who have complained of mounting workloads during the pandemic, government officials said on Thursday.
As more South Koreans avoid going to stores for fear of infection, home-delivery networks have become increasingly busy. The resulting effect on delivery drivers came in for harsh scrutiny after 10 died this year, some after complaining of unbearable work demands. South Korean media described their deaths as “gwarosa,” or death caused by excessive work.
In a news conference on Thursday, Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee and Labor Minister Lee Jae-kap said the government was asking logistics companies to shorten delivery people’s working hours and introduce a five-day workweek.
The couriers work an average of 12 hours a day, six days a week. Most of them are defined as self-employed, working for commissions, so they do not benefit from many of the protections that labor laws provide for company employees, like a 52-hour cap on work weeks.
The government is also pushing to ban late-night home deliveries, except for fresh food, the ministers said. It planned to finalize the new guidelines within the first half of next year.
Intensifying competition among logistics companies have driven down delivery fees in recent years. Couriers take home only 70 cents for each parcel delivered, and many of them work late into the night to deliver as many as possible. Since the pandemic hit, it has been increasingly common to see couriers weaving through Seoul’s streets in the dead of night.
Delayed deliveries and other customer complaints can lead to direct and indirect penalties for the couriers, including being dropped by the companies that hire them.
“Policy, infrastructure and technology could not keep up with the pace of growth for the delivery industry, and that burden was concentrated into long hours and heavy workloads for delivery workers,” said Mr. Lee, the labor minister.
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