Postal workers vote to strike over lethal hours

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Postal workers vote to strike over lethal hours

Korea’s postal workers voted to strike for the first time, after at least nine workers allegedly died this year from overwork.

The Korea Post union said Tuesday its members voted Monday to go on strike from July 9 as negotiations with management have failed to reach an agreement. The vote passed with nearly unanimous approval at 92.9 percent. Out of the union’s 28,802 members, 27,184 took part in the vote.

With the negotiation deadline set for today, the union remains at odds with the postal agency over its requests for additional hires and reduced working hours.

Overwork by delivery workers has been an issue at Korea Post for years.

The union said nine worker deaths this year were suspected to be caused by overwork. It said that the delivery personnel work a total of 2,745 hours a year compared to the average worker’s 2,052 hours.

“Korea Post keeps saying [the requests] are difficult to accept due to budget constraints,” said Lee Dong-ho, head of the postal workers’ union, at a press conference in the National Assembly on Tuesday. “If Korea Post continues to ignore this central problem until June 26 when negotiations end, we will go into a full strike.”

If the two sides fail to come to terms today and the workers strike next month, it will be the first since the agency was established over 130 years ago.

“Korea Post will do all it can to ensure that a strike does not occur on July 9 and continue dialogue with the union during the remaining period and quickly reach an agreement,” said the agency in a statement Tuesday. “In order to reduce the heavy burden on postal delivery workers, Korea Post has made various suggestions despite the financial crisis it faces.”

“There are around 27,000 union members, however, around 14,000 workers have to be present for work even if the union goes on strike,” explained an official from Korea Post, adding that mail delivery is a public service that can’t be curtailed.

As pressure from the union grows, Korea Post is struggling with heavy losses.

The agency has seen losses in its mail business since 2011, including a 145 billion won ($125.5 million) loss last year. The agency said it expects a loss of over 200 billion won this year.

A postal agency official explained that the agency had already considered hiring 1,000 additional delivery personnel this year, but the plan failed to materialize due to last year’s losses.

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