[K-Terminology] Koreans being overworked to death in 'kwarosa'
Posted : 2017-02-27 17:42
Updated : 2017-02-28 14:16
Yeongin post office worker Cho Man-sik died of atherosclerosis caused by excessive work. He is one of the examples of "kwarosa" ― death from overwork. / Courtesy of MBC
By Ko Dong-hwan
Korea Post says average annual working hours for postal workers in 2016 was 2,531 hours, or 48.7 hours a week ― 8.7 hours more than the national standard.
But Korean Postal Workers' Union chief Kim Myung-hwan questioned the figure's credibility. With help from a Korea Labor Institute survey, he argued that the employees actually worked more than 55.1 hours a week.
"Among 190 Korea Post employees who died in the past five years, 150 were in their 40-50s and over 85 were postal workers. It shows that the service industry's occupational hazards are very severe," Kim said.
Rep. Lee Jung-mi from the minor opposition Justice Party said most of the nine postal workers who died in 2016 frequently worked overtime, more than 12 hours a day.
Choi Seung-mook, chief of Korean Postman Workers' Union (different from the Korean Postal Workers' Union), demanded that postal work service be exempt from the list of occupations the nation selected to legalize extra overtime work because Korea Post "abuses the law to force overtime work."
Death from overwork ― "kwarosa" in Korean ― has emerged as one of the most debatable issues as examples from a year before to this year have shocked the nation.
The latest kwarosa death was on Feb. 6, when a postal worker was found dead in his apartment in Asan, South Chungcheong Province.
Cho Man-sik, 44, who had worked at the Yeongin post office for 15 years, died from atherosclerosis early in the morning. The illness turned out to have been caused by excessive work. Two co-workers had called in sick, burdening others with extra parcels and registered mail that must be delivered in person.
"If we left 100 deliveries today not delivered, tomorrow's workload becomes 200," a post office employee told MBC. "Korea Post has no idea how stressed postal workers are. They even think we do not work enough."
A mother of three and a civic servant working for the Ministry of Health and Welfare died of kwarosa on Jan. 15. The woman, 35, collapsed on stairs while working in the ministry building in Sejong Government Complex, having worked throughout the week without a day off.
Another civil servant from Seongju-gun Office in North Gyeongsang Province died of kwarosa last December after fumigating a site to prevent the spread of avian-influenza.
He had been working more than 14 hours every day since last November. He had worked an additional 42 hours in November and 45 hours in December. He died from cardiac arrest due to aortic dissection.
While kwarosa has not been formally updated in English dictionaries, the same meaning in Japanese, "karoshi," is an official English word. Japan is also known for its notorious office culture that drives employees to work too much overtime.
Awareness of death from overwork began in Japan in the late 1960s, when a man, 29, working for the shipping department of the nation's largest newspaper company, died of a stroke. The term was officially coined in 1978 when an increasing number of people suffered fatal strokes and heart attacks attributed to overwork.
While Japan has introduced a law to prevent karoshi, kwarosa is still being overlooked by Korean firms, which tend to ignore their responsibility for work-related deaths. Some companies surreptitiously allow workers to arrive late so they would not die of kwarosa, instead of introducing formal regulations to prevent it.
"Korea's new catch phrase could be ‘Do you know kwarosa in addition to kimchi, bibimbap and bulgogi?" an Ajou University professor said, according to Kyeonghyang Shimmun.