I Thought Maybe I Would Die S Korea’s Delivery Drivers Demand Change


I Thought Maybe I Would Die S Korea’s Delivery Drivers Demand Change

It was an hour before sunrise, 21 hours into a shift, and Mr Kim had delivered more than 400 packages. The 36-year-old delivery driver had been working since 5am the previous day. He messaged a colleague, pleading to skip a round of parcel deliveries.

“It’s too much,” he wrote. “I just can’t.”

Four days later, Mr Kim was dead. He is one of 14 workers in South Korea who union officials say died because of overwork – most of them delivery drivers.

The fates of the 14 drivers can not be directly linked to overwork, but their families described the causes of death as “kwarosa” – a Korean term used for sudden death due to heart failure or a stroke as a result of extreme hard work. Drivers in South Korea are struggling to cope with the sheer volume of online orders during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the packages have piled up, so has the pressure.

One of the drivers who died was 27-year-old Jang Deok-jin, a former Taekwondo enthusiast who had lost 15kg (33lbs) after doing 18 months of night shifts, according to his family. Deok-jin came home from a night shift earlier this month at around six in the morning and headed for a shower. His father found him dead face down in the bathtub an hour later.

“We loved that boy. When he said it was such hard work we told him it was ok to stop working, but he used to tell me that he had plans for his future,” his father said. “I am to blame for not discouraging him from working so hard and exploiting himself.”

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Mr Jang’s anger took him to South Korea’s National Assembly. In grief he fell to his knees and begged congressmen to look at the circumstances surrounding his son’s death.

“It is my son who died,” he said. “I am going to let the whole world know about it. I am going to get to the bottom of it.”


Deok-jin’s case, along with others, won the attention of President Moon Jae-in, who called for an overhaul of working conditions for delivery employees, saying they had suffered some of the worst hardships under the pandemic.

The pressure is particularly acute in South Korea, where home deliveries are expected in hours not days.

I Thought Maybe I Would Die S Korea’s Delivery Drivers Demand Change


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