‘Drivers have died’: South Korea’s couriers camp out for change | Labour Rights

Seoul, South Korea – Within the frigid South Korean winter, a bunch of logistics employees is gathering across the clock with the aim of ending work-related deaths.

For greater than 50 days, employees have occupied the headquarters of CJ Logistics in central Seoul, calling on administration to carry talks and honour the phrases of an settlement reached final yr to ease the gruelling working circumstances of supply drivers.

On a latest night time, a bunch of clergymen led a bunch prayer from behind a makeshift altar whereas employees holding candles sat cross-legged in rows on the asphalt floor.

“Drivers have died, and the state of affairs is determined. We really feel like we’ve got no choice however to struggle like this,” Nam Hee-jeong, a Seoul-based supply driver and union organiser, informed Al Jazeera on the sidelines of the gathering.

“The corporate is refusing to speak to us, so we’re out right here struggling. We’ll be right here till we are able to resolve this,” Nam mentioned.

Supply drivers’ working circumstances have been a difficulty of appreciable public curiosity in South Korea lately, following a number of office deaths involving cardiovascular illnesses that labour teams attributed to the stress of spending lengthy hours loading and delivering packages.

CJ Logistics protest South Korean supply drivers are protesting across the clock on the headquarters of CJ Logistics for higher pay and circumstances [Courtesy of Steven Borowiec]

These deaths passed off as many supply drivers labored upwards of 12 hours a day as parcel volumes spiked in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, throughout which South Koreans have bought extra items on-line. Alongside the upper quantity, got here elevated competitors from newcomers like Coupang, an e-commerce large usually described as South Korea’s reply to Amazon for its speedy supply of a broad vary of products.

That stiffer competitors meant drivers needed to work more durable at the same time as costs per supply stagnated or declined. Drivers for among the trade’s largest firms, together with CJ Logistics, aren’t workers however unbiased contractors who’re paid per supply.

Tensions surrounding the protest spiked on Tuesday when placing employees tried to disrupt visitors exterior of a logistics centre south of Seoul.

The union-led motion may backfire if legislation enforcement deems such acts unlawful, mentioned Kim Sang-kyum, a professor on the Dongguk College Faculty of Legislation. “If public authorities see unlawful actions and reply passively, that would undermine the rule of legislation,” Kim informed Al Jazeera.

The general public curiosity and tensions within the trade abated final yr when employees and administration reached a government-mediated settlement to enhance working circumstances. CJ employees say they’re braving the winter chilly as a result of the corporate has failed to stick to the phrases of that deal.

Whereas there have been no latest deaths attributed to gwarosa – actually “loss of life by overwork” – the CJ employees say circumstances haven’t improved and Jin Kyung-ho, a union chief, has pledged to go on starvation strike, refusing even water and salt, till CJ administration agrees to carry talks. Staff are additionally calling on the corporate to direct extra of the income generated by a latest value improve to employees.

Al Jazeera has contacted CJ Logistics searching for remark.

lee jae myung supporters South Koreans go to the polls on March 9 to decide on their subsequent president [File: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg]

South Koreans will go to the polls to elect a brand new president on March 9, and fixing the problem of harsh working circumstances within the logistics sector will likely be certainly one of many challenges the winner will face.

The race is successfully a two-candidate contest between Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Occasion and Yoon Seok-yul, a former prosecutor, representing the opposition Folks Energy Occasion.

Within the run-up to the election, each major candidates have pledged beneficiant fiscal spending to help unbiased retailers and different teams whose fortunes have waned throughout the pandemic.

However the two candidates differ markedly of their feedback on the query of supply drivers’ conflicts with administration. Lee, who has a bootstrapping private story of getting been born to a poor household and carried out guide labour in his youth earlier than finding out to change into a lawyer, has gained endorsements from each of the nation’s main umbrella labour unions.

Lee has a historical past of talking out on behalf of employees, and oversaw a community of help centres for supply drivers in his earlier job as governor of South Korea’s most populous province.

The left-leaning candidate has pledged to enact a legislation making certain the labour rights of unbiased employees, freelancers, and tech employees — a lot of whom aren’t protected below present South Korean labour legislation. Such a promise could possibly be significantly interesting to logistics employees, who, as contractors, usually should not have protections like medical insurance, minimal wage or authorized limits on their working hours.

Alternatively, conservative candidate Yoon has earned the ire of employees with feedback some interpreted as insensitive. In a single well-known instance, whereas decrying the federal government’s choice to restrict the workweek to 52 hours, Yoon mentioned employees ought to have the ability to work as much as 120 hours in the event that they select, spurring accusations that he was out of contact with working individuals’s actuality.

Extra not too long ago, when requested in regards to the CJ employees’ strike, Yoon mentioned employees and administration ought to resolve their battle with out authorities involvement. Organisers representing CJ employees interpreted Yoon’s remark as implying that he wouldn’t help placing employees if elected.

A step in direction of an answer

As a primary step in direction of an answer, the civic teams and authorities officers that reached final yr’s settlement ought to reconvene to work out an authoritative interpretation of implement the phrases, mentioned Park Ji-soon, a professor of social safety legislation at Korea College.

Staff and administration also needs to work out a extra everlasting discussion board to speak and resolve issues like distribute the income generated by value will increase, Park mentioned.

“There’s a recognised want for collective bargaining by employees within the courier trade,” Park informed Al Jazeera, “significantly a collective bargaining system that’s appropriate to the particular wants of these employees.”

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