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Workers at Amazon of South Korea protest boiling pot conditions

Hwaseong, South Korea When Jeong Dong-heon returns home from just work at a Coupang logistics centre, he often finds crusty white patterns on the trunk and sides of his shirt.

The flower-like shapes are manufactured by accumulated salt deposits due to the sweat that pours off his body as he works at an enormous warehouse run by among South Koreas largest companies.

Jeong works from 8am to 5pm, undertaking physical tasks offering lifting and carrying heavy boxes. Come early july, South Korea has experienced record-setting temperatures and heat is becoming so dizzying that Jeong often worries about collapsing.

Employed in the warehouse feels as though being in the boiling pot, Jeong, 29, told Al Jazeera.

Jeong is among several workers organising for air-con to be looked at not just a luxury, but a simple necessity to allow them to do their jobs safely. He and his colleagues would like to remind the business, and customers, of the human sweat at the main of convenient, quick deliveries.

Jeong Dong-heon
Coupang worker Jeong Dong-heon and his colleagues are organising for better air-con and much more rest breaks at the job [Courtesy of Steven Borowiec]

With heat waves now a routine occurrence in July and August, workers want Coupang to invest in binding solutions. Their demands: adequate air-con in every workspaces and a guaranteed 20 minutes of rest time for each and every two hours of work.

Coupang rose to become South Koreas leading e-commerce firm using its speedy, inexpensive delivery of a near-infinite selection of goods, from fruit to lawn mowers and foot massagers.

Like its US rival Amazon, Coupang has faced allegations that its high-tech dominance is made on the exploitation of workers. At the very least two deaths have already been reported at the centre where Jeong works, and labour groups declare that strenuous workplace conditions were factors. This past year, a government body linked the death of a 27-year-old man at another Coupang centre to his extended hours focusing on the warehouse floor.

In every seasons, just work at Coupang is physically taxing. An unbiased 2021 study discovered that 73 percent of workers reported their work to become more intense than fast walking. 1 / 2 of the workers surveyed said they always felt exhausted after their shift, with nearly 30 percent saying they often times felt exhausted.

With an increase of than 60,000 workers, Coupang is South Koreas third-largest employer, behind Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor Company. Once the company debuted on the brand new York STOCK MARKET this past year, it announced plans to employ 50,000 more employees in the united kingdom by 2025.

Yoon Soo-hyun, a 43-year-old worker at a Coupang centre in Goyang, a satellite city north of Seoul, said informal norms on the warehouse floor discourage workers from taking breaks.

Jeong
Some Coupang workers say the e-commerce giants logistics centres are unbearably hot through the summer [Courtesy of Steven Borowiec]

The business puts out several chairs and tells us that when were tired, we are able to sit for some time, Yoon told Al Jazeera. But everyone feels nervous because you can find always supervisors watching us, seeing who’s on break and for just how long.

He added, We dont desire to lose our jobs, so we just do what were told.

Coupang says it meets government standards.

We meet and/or exceed all health-related government regulations for the indoor and outdoor working regions of our fulfilment centers, the business told Al Jazeera in a statement.

In case a worker has any ailment for just about any reason while working at among our facilities, they’re permitted to avoid working.

Though Coupang workers have organised to get air-con, some experts say that large spaces like warehouses present unique challenges which make it difficult to help keep them cool.

Jung Jin-woo, a professor at Seoul National University of Science and Technology who studies occupational safety and health management, said expecting air-con in the warehouses is unrealistic.

The centres have high ceilings, theyre open 24 hours each day, and the area is a lot more than 15 times bigger than a football field, Jung told Al Jazeera.

Coupang
Coupang says its working conditions meet or exceed government standards [File: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg]

Meanwhile, Coupang told Al Jazeera it has installed 20,000 cooling units, including ac units and fans, in its logistics centres and air-conditioned break rooms on every floor. But workers say this doesnt go far enough and the warehouses remain oppressively hot.

While Coupang has generated up an enormous customer base recently, the firms efforts to remain ahead in the fiercely competitive e-commerce sector, including major investments in automation, have led to steep losses.

The business recorded net losses of $405m within the last quarter of 2021 and another $209m in losses through the first quarter of the year. Since debuting on the brand new York STOCK MARKET this past year, Coupang has faced growing pressure from investors to show a profit, analysts say.

The companys near-term prospects may also be complicated by the generally weak economic outlook in South Korea, a country currently beset by sluggish growth and high inflation.

Folks have less to invest, so there is going to be a slowing of Coupangs revenue growth,Shin Se-don, a professor of economics at Sookmyung Womens University in Seoul, told Al Jazeera.

Regardless of the challenges workers face, Coupang still offers jobs which are appealing to many South Koreans, especially those minus the academic credentials traditionally necessary for white-collar positions.

Coupang said workers in its fulfilment centres can earn around 3.42 million won ($2,652) monthly, a competitive amount in a country with the very least wage of 9,160 won ($7.03) each hour. The business also will not require specific education or experience credentials when hiring.

Coupang protest
Coupang workers last month marched 50km from the companys headquarters in southeastern Seoul to a logistics warehouse to protest working conditions [Courtesy of Steven Borowiec]

Jeong, who’s wiry and energetic, spent some time working at Coupang since April of this past year and says he could be focused on remaining there for the near future. He could be motivated not merely by their own need to earn a living, but a need to improve the large amount of an increasing number of workers in an organization that’s fast becoming one of is own countrys most recognisable corporate brands.

Last month, Jeong along with other Coupang workers wheeled an air conditioning equipment and marched 50km (32 miles) from the companys headquarters in southeastern Seoul to the warehouse where he works.

By the end of the march, Jeong caught his breath in the shadow of the hulking building where he spends his days. He described the battle for air-con as a step towards longer-term goals, like higher wages and much more say in company affairs.

This is an extended struggle, he said.

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