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The Peninsula

Taking Quick Delivery for Granted in South Korea

Published May 30, 2018
Category: South Korea

By Jihyun Joung

Even if you are surrounded by hundreds of people in the middle of nowhere near the vast Han River, there is no need to worry—the chicken delivery man will spot you. Widely known as the “Delivery Nation,” South Koreans enjoy high speed delivery services in almost every product, you name it. You can have all sorts of food delivered from locally owned restaurants to large franchises. You can also save time going grocery shopping and conveniently have your groceries delivered to your home with few clicks, which is especially useful for single or double-income households. Recently, deliveries of grooming products such as razors, shirts, and shoes have expanded so that individuals can keep up with their overwhelming workload. If you don’t speak the language or are too shy to call, you can simply download one of numerous Korean delivery Apps such as Yogiyo and Baedal Minjok. The best part of it all is that you can get all of these goods delivered within a few hours through South Korea’s renowned “Rocket Delivery.” With the burgeoning of mobile and online services and applications delivering a wide range of products to your doorstep, South Korea saw a record high for online purchases in March. Although the country has benefited from overall economic growth and consumer satisfaction through this expansion, there has been a failure to recognize the sufferings of the employees, the delivery men who are coerced into working extensive hours for minimum wage to meet the ever-growing demands from consumers.

Due to the harsh working conditions of delivery men in the country, they were driven to take extreme measures. Over the past year, there have been multiple deaths of delivery men and postal workers. Either by succumbing to diseases incited by stress or by committing suicide. Evidently, the main cause of death was overworking. A 47-year-old Asan-based mailman, Gwak Hyung-gu, was found dead in April 2017. An autopsy revealed that Gwak died from arteriosclerosis, a sickness highly correlated to both physical and mental stress. Gwak had to deliver at least 1,200 letters every day, working 12 more hours than an average Korean worker. His work normally extended to the weekends, where he was refrained from spending any time with his family. Some postal workers even took their own lives, leaving behind suicide notes that accentuated their resentment towards the unbearable work schedule.

Besides these dire consequences, postmen and delivery men have expressed their frustration through protests as well. Most recently in April 2018, a shocking picture exposed hundreds of delivery boxes stranded in the parking lot of an apartment complex. This incident occurred in Dasan-dong, where delivery trucks were prohibited from entering an apartment complex due to its exclusiveness. The owners of the apartment complex claimed that these delivery trucks would place the residents, particularly the children in harm. This meant that these delivery men had to hand carry heavy packages to each and every house, which was an arduous task. Not only was this a physically laborious duty, but also unfair because their wages and working hours did not differ based on their workload. Unable and unwilling to do the absurd job required of these delivery men, the packages delivered to this particular apartment complex were often delayed or lost. Unfortunately, all complaints were directed towards them. On one side, business owners scolded them for their incompetence. On the other, the apartment residents were furious that their packages weren’t delivered on time. Subsequently, they rudely demanded that postmen place the packages in a cart and deliver them to every household personally. This ridiculous request led to the aforementioned protest.

These radical examples demonstrate how quick delivery services are pushing both delivery men and postal workers to do the impossible. As the delivery services become more convenient, wide-ranged, and quick, there will be a limit to how much the employees can tolerate, especially with the consumers and business owners pressuring them even further on both sides. We should acknowledge the fact that there is so much that one person can do in a given time. Though swift delivery services are prevalent and growing in the country, people should never take this for granted.


Jihyun Joung is an incoming Masters student in Economic and Political Development at Columbia University. She is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from Hoks photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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