Unionized couriers launch strike after failed talks with govt. and logistics

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Unionized delivery workers in South Korea launched a full-scale strike Wednesday following the failure of talks with the government and logistics firms on improving working conditions.

The Parcel Delivery Workers’ Solidarity Union announced Tuesday that 2,100 of its 6,500 members would stage an indefinite walkout starting Wednesday, as the dialogue fell through due to the absence of the association of delivery service branches from the talks.

The union has asked firms to implement what it agreed with the government and delivery firms in a deal signed in January, which promised employers would dispatch additional workers to sort parcels.

The union claimed that companies continued to ask for the agreement to be postponed for a year, which the union has refused from early on. Couriers are required to sort parcels before delivery without being paid, which has been cited as the main cause of their long workhours.

Overwork has been the cause of 21 deaths of couriers since last year, the union says, adding that not much has been done by the employers or the government in lowering working hours and protecting delivery workers from associated health risks.

According to a report from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea in 2017, parcel delivery service workers put in around 71.3 hours a week, far greater than the limit of 52 hours adopted in Korea since 2018.

The deal in January was finalized so that parcels would be sorted by those other than delivery workers or provide pay for delivery workers if they do the sorting job themselves. But couriers still had to sort parcels without pay since then, the union argues.

In its own survey, the union said 85 percent of 1,186 delivery workers still had to sort parcels prior to starting deliveries. More than 30 percent of couriers surveyed said they had to sort parcels by themselves as logistics firms provided no support for the job.

Logistics firms explained that support could not be provided on time as they faced difficulties in hiring additional workers to sort parcels.

The job usually starts at 7 a.m. every day, which has been a barrier to hiring, the firms say, adding that demand for these jobs has also been lowered by the location. Most logistics terminals are located on the outskirts of cities.

Yet the union fought back the firms’ argument, saying the employers still failed to compensate couriers for sorting parcels themselves.

While the full-scale strike is on, its effect is not great enough to actually impact the pace of deliveries, as only a small proportion of couriers are participating in the walkout.

It is estimated the country has around 50,000 couriers in service, and the union represents a little more than 10 percent of all delivery workers in Korea.

Only a third of these union members are legally entitled to take part in the full-scale strike that started Wednesday. Other members of the union have signed collective agreements with their employers, which takes away their right to strike for the time being.

Logistics firms estimated that only a half hour to hour delay could be expected for deliveries in limited areas.

The union, logistics firms and the government are scheduled to continue negotiating for implementation of the January deal and discuss delivery workers’ demand for reduced workload and increased fees for parcel deliveries.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)