[EDITORIALS]Woes of the letter carrierImproving the work environment for letter carriers is a pressing issue. We cannot overlook their struggles with an excessive workload any longer. "I wish I could just eat dinner at home and watch the nine o'clock television news," one letter carrier said.
The working environment for these postal employees has deteriorated significantly since the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis and subsequent industrial restructuring. According to the Korea Post, the headquarters of post offices, the annual workload of letter carriers in Korea has increased from 4.6 billion pieces of mail in 1997 to 6.4 billion pieces of mail last year.
Meanwhile, the work force underwent drastic downsizing. Workers were added later, but the total work force has not reached pre-crisis levels. In large cities, the average work day for letter carriers is 13 hours, and in rural areas, they usually work more than 10 hours a day.
Handwritten letters have fallen by 50 percent with the wider use of e-mail. But a surge in advertisements and the booming television home shopping business and online shopping have contributed to the heavier workload. Social changes, such as the growth in the number of households where both partners work during the day, have led to more mail being undelivered. Last year, more than 100 million pieces of mail were redelivered or returned.
Improving the work environment for letter carriers cannot be put off any longer. The government is pushing smaller government, so adding 3,000 people to the work force immediately would be difficult. But temporary or part-time workers could help ease the situation.
Another suggestion is that the government outsource postal services to private companies. Some local post offices are reportedly pursuing this solution for heavy pieces of mail. Some may raise concerns over the risk of the abuse of personal information or accuracy of delivery, but we think it is worth a try.
If there are laws standing in the way, revise them. The government also needs to look into networking convenience stores or grocery stores as quasi-post offices. The government also has to tap into high-tech products such as personal digital assistants and improve the mail classification system to improve work efficiency.