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Delivery chaos looms as parcel workers consider full-scale strike ahead of Lunar New Year

Parcel delivery workers move boxes Tuesday ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday next month. Unionized delivery workers are mulling to launch a full-scale walkout in their fight for better working condition and wages. (Yonhap)
Parcel delivery workers move boxes Tuesday ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday next month. Unionized delivery workers are mulling to launch a full-scale walkout in their fight for better working condition and wages. (Yonhap)
South Korea may be headed for delivery chaos ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, as unionized parcel delivery workers consider a full-scale walkout next week in their fight for better working conditions and wages.

The Parcel Delivery Workers’ Solidarity Union said Wednesday that a nationwide vote among its 5,500 members has started and will end Thursday. The members will decide whether to go ahead with the collective action as its negotiations with logistics firms and the government did not bear fruit.

If more than half of its members agree to strike, the union plans to stage an indefinite walkout until it receives a guarantee of higher wages and measures to prevent overwork.

The vote is meaningful as the union represents 11 percent of all parcel delivery workers in Korea, and logistics firms are expected to be unable to meet demand to deliver gifts for the important holiday weekend.

“Five workers have already fallen ill or died recently from overwork as logistics firms have avoided deploying additional workers and made vain promises of prohibiting late-night deliveries,” the union said in a statement Tuesday.

“Overwork is going to continue for sure if the approaching Lunar New Year is factored in, so we could not just sit here and watch our colleagues die.”

Delivery workers have complained for months that they are overburdened due to the surge in online orders since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Courier services also encounter a greater workload than usual during the Lunar New Year and Chuseok holidays.

The union claims one worker died and four more fainted from overwork this year, even after logistics firms promised measures last year to prevent deaths on the job. Nineteen couriers died from apparent overwork last year, it argues.

Unionized workers have asked logistics firms to deploy more workers to sort parcels while prohibiting late-night deliveries and allowing delayed shipments.

Delivery workers are also asking companies to increase delivery fees so they can earn higher wages. Couriers are usually not directly employed by the firms they work for, but are subcontractors who earn commissions on each parcel they deliver.

A consultative body was formed last month among logistics firms, consumer groups, the government, experts and delivery workers to address these demands, but no meaningful progress was made, pushing workers to mull a full-scale strike, the union said.

Yet the union added that it would pursue a last round of negotiations Wednesday in hopes of an acceptable offer from the logistics firms and the government. The union has mentioned that it could cancel the strike if the proposal meets its demands.

In response, on Wednesday the government proposed to deploy 6,000 workers to sort parcels at five major logistics firms and recruit more to ensure that delivery workers are protected from overwork before and during the Lunar New Year holiday.

Courier service workers would be provided with regular health checks, while state-run entities and conglomerates would be asked to avoid the rush period for deliveries when making gift orders.

It was not known as of press time whether the delivery workers’ union had accepted the proposal, but the union warned that the strike would go ahead as scheduled in the absence of “remarkable progress.”

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