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Mail carriers face grueling hours

Aug 16,2017
As many as 12 mail carriers and clerks died this year, many of whom were found to have been overworked.

A 44-year-old mailman surnamed Cho died at his home in South Chungcheong in February. He was diagnosed with sclerosis of the arteries. Cho had worked the day before his death, which was a holiday. The Ministry of Personnel Management registered his death as a death on duty.

On June 8, a 57-year-old mailman surnamed Yong, working at Korea Post’s Gapyeong branch office in Gyeonggi, was found dead in the employee resting area of the post office. He had died of a brain hemorrhage after going to work early that day. Just the day before, he had delivered mail through the rain.

A 47-year-old mailman surnamed Gwak, who worked at Korea Post’s Asan branch office in South Chungcheong, was found dead at home on June 25. Doctors said he died of a heart attack. Gwak had worked past his normal working hours during the presidential election in May.

On July 4, a 34-year-old mailman surnamed Bae set off on a motorcycle from Korea Post’s Cheongsong branch office in North Gyeongsang. In the midst of a downpour, Bae was hit by a car and died on the road.

A total of nine mail carriers and three post office clerks died this year, and their deaths have shed light on the exhausting working conditions many of them endure.

A mail carrier’s day normally begins around 5 a.m. every day. They sort out and deliver the mail by around 3 to 5 p.m. There is a one-hour lunch break, but some mail carriers told the JoongAng Ilbo that they “usually have to finish eating within 30 minutes.”

They then begin to sort out mail for the next day, and this usually lasts until 9 p.m. A mail carrier works 10.9 hours a day on average, according to the Korea Labor Institute (KLI), and four out of 10 work 12 to 14 hours a day, 22 days a month.

City mail carriers usually travel some 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) per day, while those in the countryside cover over 100 kilometers per day. On average, they deliver 1,000 pieces of mail each day. Gwak, the 47-year-old mailman, used to deliver an average of 1,291 pieces of mail per day.

Yet for all this hard work, mail carriers typically only take an average of 3.4 days off per year, usually because they “don’t want to make their coworkers work extra hours to cover for them,” KLI reported.

Additionally, only 2 out of 10 mail carriers say they take off work when sick. Yet each gets into an accident or sustains muscular injuries 4.4 times a year on average.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor’s Daejeon branch office investigated four post offices, including Korea Post’s Asan branch office. It found that employees of the four post offices worked overtime for an average of 57 hours a month, yet the Labor Standards Act states that a worker should not work overtime for more than 12 hours a week, or 48 hours a month. However, public officials do not fall under the category of “worker” in the Labor Standards Act in Korea.

The Daejeon branch office advised the government to come up with a measure to help post office employees take more time off and work fewer hours.

Last month, some 10,000 mail carriers rallied in Seoul Plaza in central Seoul, requesting that the government hire some 3,600 more mail carriers to reduce their working hours.

The Korea Post in June had announced a plan to hire 100 more carriers and to limit their working hours to 52 hours a week.

BY KIM KI-CHAN, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]