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Civil society leaders demand creation of panel to address couriers' deaths

Over 130 leaders of civic, religious and health groups on Wednesday demanded the creation of a new deliberative body to tackle the issues that have led to the deaths of nearly a dozen couriers.

The leaders, representing various groups, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant organizations, as well as healthcare workers, laid out their demands in a joint declaration that also called attention to the harsh working conditions of parcel couriers.

"The deaths of couriers from overwork are structural murders," one representative said during a press conference held at Seoul's Gwanghwamun Square, accusing courier companies of forcing workers to put in long hours to sort parcels before delivering them.

"Additional workers must immediately be assigned to the job of sorting, and special measures must be drawn up to reduce working hours to an appropriate level," he continued, claiming that couriers currently work an average of 71 hours a week.

As of Tuesday, 11 couriers were reported to have died this year apparently from overwork or by suicide after struggling to make ends meet.

Couriers have come under growing pressure this year due to the high volume of online shopping orders triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

"At this time of COVID-19, as the entire nation has become courier users, let us all come forward to create a social monitoring (mechanism) and carry out social deliberations on preventing deaths from overwork," the declaration said.

The civil society leaders claimed that courier companies failed to deliver on their promise to hire more workers, while the government stopped short of fulfilling its pledge to halt late-night deliveries and conduct on-site inspections.

Kwon Young-ghil, former chairman of the former left-leaning Democratic Labor Party, called on President Moon Jae-in to personally get involved in ensuring that the issue is addressed through special measures. (Yonhap)