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Japan Post weighs cuts to next-day delivery

Labor shortage forces rethink of fast service that carries no additional charge

Japan Post often delivers letters and postcards traveling relatively short distances the day after they are sent, charging only standard postage. (Photo by Hideyuki Miura)

TOKYO -- Japan Post is considering reducing next-day delivery of standard mail to lighten the load on post offices that face shortages of employees to handle late-night sorting.

The postal service, a unit of Japan Post Holdings, would sharply reduce nighttime staffing, probably cutting back on areas that now enjoy fast delivery of letters and postcards for no additional charge. Premium services such as express mail are likely to remain unaffected.

Japan Post is already seeking approval to limit deliveries to weekdays only. This would require a change to existing law, which mandates home delivery six days per week.

Japanese law requires that mail be delivered anywhere in the country, with a few exceptions like isolated islands, within three days. But items going short distances are often delivered the next day regardless of when senders drop them off.

On average, about 9,000 employees work nighttime hours sorting mail to enable next-day service, the postal service says. With labor becoming harder to come by, post offices appear to be having employees work overtime in some cases -- which clashes with the effort by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government to reduce working hours.

Japan Post will discuss the details of the next-day delivery change, including the timing and extent, with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Though these adjustments would not require any legislative measures, the company would need to gauge the effect on customers.

The unlisted postal service has mostly been a money-loser for Japan Post Holdings, which is nearly 60% government-owned. The group's Japan Post Bank and Japan Post Insurance generate its profits.

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