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Questions remain over Yamato Transport's measures for overstretched drivers

Yamato Holdings Co. President Masaki Yamauchi bows while Yamato Transport Co. President Yutaka Nagao looks on at a news conference in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on April 28, 2017. (Mainichi)

Serious questions remain as to the efficacy of a set of new measures that parcel delivery giant Yamato Transport will implement to improve conditions for its overstretched delivery drivers.

The new measures come in response to a significant staff shortage within the company that has mainly arisen as a result of the burgeoning online shopping market. To help ease the burden on its drivers, Yamato has decided to reduce its total package volume and increase transport charges.

At a press conference on April 28, Yamato Holdings President Masaki Yamauchi expressed his willingness to reform working conditions. "It has become necessary to enhance the quality of our operations, by creating a workplace in which our staff can work enthusiastically," Yamauchi explained.

Notably, the company's total package volume has increased rapidly over the past few years owing to the spread of online sales by companies such as Amazon. In fiscal 2016, the company handled 1.87 billion packages -- an increase of over 30 percent compared to five years earlier.

As a result, the company has been hit by a considerable staff shortage, with unpaid overtime work by drivers becoming the norm. A recent survey on working conditions within the company showed that approximately 47,000 employees were affected by unpaid overtime payments, and that one-off payments totaling approximately 19 billion yen had been made. Speaking on the recent situation at Yamato, Yamauchi explained, "The number of packages has increased while the staff shortage problems have remained, which has placed an excessive burden on our staff on the front lines," indicating that the company has reached its limit under the current system.

Under the structural reforms announced on April 28, Yamato explained that an increase in its revenue from the planned fare hike would go toward improving the working conditions of its staff. In addition, the company would look to control the volume of the packages it takes on, particularly from major clients during busy periods. Furthermore, the firm aims to put a stop to unpaid overtime.

However, some Yamato drivers doubt the viability of the new measures. For example, a male driver in his 20s from Kyushu states, "Since the start of April, we have been told to finish our tasks within standard working hours." However, with the package volume remaining high, and the ongoing staff shortage problem, the drivers have been stretched. "We have been unable to take lunch breaks. The instruction only increased the burden on us drivers. The situation of being overwhelmed by a huge amount of packages continues to be an issue," he adds.

Arguably, the ones who really hold the key to solving this problem are the company's major clients such as Amazon, which account for about 90 percent of Yamato's package volume. In response to this reality, Yamato has approached some 1,000 major clients to negotiate price increases and limits on package volumes.

At the same time, these companies bring in substantial levels of revenue to Yamato, so the negotiations are expected to be difficult.

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