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Understaffed Japan Post seeks to end Saturday mail

Postal company joins trend in logistics toward service cutbacks

Japan Post employees work night shifts to sort and ship mail for next-day delivery.   © AP

TOKYO -- Japan Post plans to terminate Saturday delivery of standard mail, joining others in the logistics industry that are curtailing weekend and nighttime operations to help understaffed workforces.

The postal service, a unit of state-owned Japan Post Holdings, also intends to significantly cut back on next-day standard delivery. The move illustrates a national trend away from services that accommodate customers at the expense of workers on the ground.

Japan Post Vice President Chikashi Isayama formally requested the service changes at a Friday meeting of an advisory council under the communications ministry. Under the proposal, mail would be delivered only on weekdays.

The communications ministry will consider amending the law that mandates home postal delivery six days a week. Japan Post and the ministry will listen to customer feedback as they proceed with discussion.

Postal workers receive two days off per week, but many work different shifts to allow for six-days-a-week service. Employees also work at night to sort mail and ship it to other post offices so that those pieces of mail can be delivered the next day in many areas.

Despite the introduction of automation, many processes still need to be handled manually. Deep labor shortages have made overtime a part of everyday life for many postal employees.

"Unless we change things, maintaining a reliable postal service will become difficult," Isayama said.

"We need to rethink how our staff works. We urgently need to address long hours," he said, referring to the government's campaign to fight Japan's culture of overwork.

Quick and reliable delivery services have become the norm in Japan, largely thanks to the formerly fully state-run postal service. But the growing labor shortage is forcing even private-sector players to reevaluate the sustainability of their services.

Come January, Fukuyama Transporting will cease offering Sunday delivery to corporate addressees, including apparel and food stores. The company wants to make it easier for its drivers to take days off.

Industry leader Yamato Transport last year revised its delivery time windows that customers can select. With the change, the Yamato Holdings unit sought to ensure that its drivers have enough time for a break and avoid handling too many packages in a narrow window.

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