The Korea Herald


Unions oppose move to allow migrant laborers work at “death-ridden” logistics firms

By Ko Jun-tae

Published : March 24, 2021 - 14:17

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Delivery workers at a logistics center move parcels. (Yonhap) Delivery workers at a logistics center move parcels. (Yonhap)
A foreign workers’ representative group has called for improved working conditions at logistics firms, as the South Korean government mulls allowing migrant laborers to be dispatched as couriers to tackle the industry’s manpower shortage.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Migrants’ Trade Union criticized the government for “effectively trying to make up industries short of local manpower with migrant workers.” The union said migrant laborers would be put at risk if they are dispatched to logistics firms notorious for its relentless working conditions.

“Sorting parcels is one of the most well-known hard labor within courier firms’ operations, and working condition is poor from the industry’s inherent multilevel business structure,” the union said.

“Fundamentally changing the poor working condition should be prioritized before dispatching migrant laborers to this line of work. The government is effectively outsourcing risks to (foreign workers).”

More labor representative groups have issued statements this week opposing the government’s move, denouncing it as an attempt to shirk responsibility from the issue by merely shifting the same problem to other nationals.

“If workers are shunning away from some jobs, the quality of these jobs should be improved,” the Korea Institute of Labor Safety and Health said in a statement Monday. “Pushing the dangerous work to other types of laborers without due diligence is not a way to solve but to grow the problem.”

The condemnation follows the Ministry of Justice’s move to pass a revision to the Immigration Control Act that would allow migrant laborers in Korea with H-2 work and visit visas to be additionally dispatched at logistics firms and distribution centers.

Under the current law, H-2 visa holders can be dispatched at 39 types of designated businesses, including small-sized manufacturing firms as well as livestock and fisheries sectors. The proposed amendment is planned to be proposed before the Cabinet after April 26.

The move was in response to requests from local logistics firms to allow hiring of foreign laborers to address a shortage of manpower.

These parcel shipping companies have blamed their manpower shortage on local laborers who have eschewed working in the industry because of its harsh working conditions.

This shortfall has created a vicious cycle of forcing companies to leave the workers that stay on in even harsher environments, they argued.

Delivery drivers in Korea have struggled to cope with the sheer volume of packages that has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with reports of workers collapsing or dying after long shifts.

According to the Parcel Delivery Workers’ Solidarity Union, 16 couriers died from overwork last year, and four more have died so far this year.

Contracted delivery workers were tasked with sorting parcels at warehouses as well as delivering them, which especially burdened them in terms of workload, the union argues.

A civic group survey on 1,341 parcel delivery workers released in November showed that they worked an average of 71.3 hours per week while resting on Sundays, and their average mealtime lasted 12.2 minutes per day.

While the logistics industry has promised to hire more workers to sort and deliver parcels to improve working conditions in response to alleged overwork-related deaths, they have also requested the government to allow them use foreign laborers for additional manpower.

The industry had made the same requests in 2019 when the issue of overwork surfaced then but they were eventually shut down due to opposition from labor groups and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on worries of undermining employment opportunities for Koreans.

Local labor groups have opposed the latest legislative move to supply foreign workers to logistics firms, criticizing the government for endangering more workers with what authorities claim to be a “reasonable solution.”

“While it isn’t sure if H-2 visa holders from China and Central Asia will enter these death-ridden distribution centers, possibility is great for this leeway to expand to E-9 visa and help firms freely acquire manpower,” the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said in a statement Monday.

“This will in the end only benefit the private sector and push workers to the brink of death by exposing them to risks.”

By Ko Jun-tae (