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[News Focus] Delivery workers to vote on strike against ‘gapjil’

Parcels piling up as tensions grow between delivery workers and Seoul apartment complex

A delivery worker places parcels by the entrance to an apartment complex with 5,000 households in Gangdong-gu, eastern Seoul, on April 15. (Yonhap)
A delivery worker places parcels by the entrance to an apartment complex with 5,000 households in Gangdong-gu, eastern Seoul, on April 15. (Yonhap)
Parcel delivery workers are mulling whether to stage a full-scale strike later this month as they ask logistics firms to step in and resolve an ongoing conflict with some apartment complexes and their residents over a ban on ground-floor parking.

A delivery workers’ union under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said Sunday that 76 percent of its 371 lead members agreed to start a vote within the union on a full-scale walkout. The vote will take place Thursday for all delivery workers within the union.

“If the strike is approved from the vote, we will start a full-scale walkout starting May 11,” the union announced in a statement. “Logistics firms should step in now to resolve the gapjil issue from some apartments and the problem with ground-floor parking.”

Gapjil refers to bullying and sometimes violence by a powerful person or entity against someone in a weaker position. The word derives from a contract term to describe a leading party in a deal.

The walkout, if it happens, is expected to disrupt local logistics firms’ door-to-door delivery services, as the union represents 5,500 workers, about 10 percent of the more than 50,000 delivery workers throughout South Korea.

A full month has passed since the conflict between delivery workers and apartment complexes started, with resident representatives of a large-scale apartment complex in Gangdong-gu, eastern Seoul, deciding to ban parcel delivery trucks from driving on ground-floor roads within the complex’s area.

The ban, which took effect April 1, called on the workers to park their trucks at the complex entrance or in the underground parking lot, requiring workers to use handcarts when making door-to-door delivery services.

The resident representatives were concerned about the risk of accidents or damage to the complex’s facilities, saying the ground-floor roads were designed to be clear of vehicles.

Delivery workers strongly opposed the move, saying the vast majority of delivery trucks used in Korea would not fit in the underground parking lots, designed with a 2.3-meter height limit.

Modifying the trucks currently in use to fit within the limit would cost at least 1.3 million won ($1,176) per vehicle while decreasing the load capacity by 30 percent. It would then take more fuel to deliver the same number of parcels, forcing drivers to spend more.

As delivery workers conclude special contracts with logistics firms, not employment contracts like full-time workers, that financial burden would be directly in their hands.

Workers also argued that the ban would not guarantee safety, as moving heavy parcels out of trucks and onto handcarts and moving them across apartment buildings would be extremely physically demanding.

The conflict remains unsolved, and delivery workers have been piling up parcels by the entrance to the apartment complex. Residents have to physically come to the entrance to pick up their deliveries every day.

The conflict has also led to legal disputes, as delivery workers and 5,000 households within the complex wrestle over the rule. Two delivery workers in the union are facing police investigation for alleged forced entry after placing banners inside the apartment complex.

The delivery workers’ union also filed a complaint with the Seoul Regional Employment and Labor Office, reporting the apartment complex’s resident representative for illegally forcing delivery workers to introduce low-floor delivery vehicles.

“Under the COVID-19 era, parcel delivery has become an essential service for the comfort of people, but it’s unfortunate to find that the hard work of delivery workers is not so considered and respected,” the union said in a statement April 8.

The union has criticized logistics firms for being passive about addressing the issue, which is why delivery workers are threatening to wage a full-scale strike later this month.

Delivery workers have asked the firms to fight for the rights of their workers by imposing a ban on services for apartment complexes that make such “unreasonable” demands for parcel deliveries. The union also asked the government to step in and play a role in resolving the conflict.

By Ko Jun-tae (