Unions attack South Korea’s 69-hour work week plan
South Korea’s plans to spice up the work week from 52 to a most 69 hours fills SM Chang, a 47-year-old employee at a bank card firm, with dread.
Working time beyond regulation was the norm till the federal government launched the 52-hour work week 5 years in the past. “These days, our workplace computer systems are turned off robotically shortly after six. I’ve to get permission from my boss six hours earlier than working time beyond regulation,” mentioned Chang, who didn’t need her full title to be printed. “I actually don’t need to return to these previous days with out evenings.”
However longer work days could also be on the playing cards after the conservative administration of President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took workplace final Might, introduced plans to extend the permitted weekly hours to nearly twice France’s 35-hour week.
Proponents of the plan argue it could actually supply an answer to the issue posed by an ageing inhabitants and a declining workforce, however even in a rustic famed for its workaholic tradition, it has prompted a backlash.
Underneath a system launched in 2018, the South Korean work week includes 40 hours of standard work and 12 hours of time beyond regulation. Companies that breach the principles can face a jail sentence or hefty nice.
The proposed change permits employers to rely time beyond regulation on a month-to-month, quarterly and yearly foundation. The federal government argues that it’ll allow staff to financial institution extra time beyond regulation in busy intervals, which they’ll later take again as depart.
The labour ministry mentioned the present weekly restrict restricted the rights of firms and staff to decide on their working hours. In Korea’s ageing society, it argued that prolonged intervals of depart would permit extra household time, even increase the nation’s falling fertility fee.
South Korea’s complete fertility fee fell under the so-called alternative start fee of two.1 births per lady in 1984 and has been falling ever since, that means that fewer and fewer contemporary graduates are becoming a member of the workforce. The speed is now the bottom on the earth at 0.78.
“We are able to resolve critical social issues like quick ageing and low start charges by permitting girls to decide on their working hours extra flexibly,” mentioned labour minister Lee Jung-sik.
Enterprise associations have welcomed the federal government plan for permitting “administration and staff to spice up effectivity by selecting working hours”. Producers, builders and IT service suppliers have referred to as for extra flexibility in working hours, citing employees shortages and difficulties in assembly deadlines.
However labour unions have blasted the “poisonous” plan, calling it an “anachronistic thought”. “The federal government is forcing staff into ultra-long hours of intensive work,” mentioned the Federation of Korean Commerce Unions.
The president faces opposition in parliament too, the place the nation’s primary opposition get together has vowed to dam the reform, noting a excessive prevalence of labor accidents and deaths attributable to over work. There have been 739 claims for state compensation attributable to deaths from overwork in 2021, labour ministry knowledge suggests. Practically 40 per cent of those claims have been permitted.
The nation’s workaholic tradition contributed to its fast industrialisation over the previous half century and helped rework it into the world’s tenth largest economic system.
South Koreans put in a mean of 1,915 hours in 2021, the fifth-most globally after Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia and Chile, based on the OECD. It was 199 hours greater than the OECD common.
However many individuals battle to make ends meet and rising property costs have put housing out of attain to many. On the similar time, there’s excessive social stress to succeed.
“Lengthy hours of labor at low wages continues to be rampant within the nation whereas stress to remain forward stays robust amongst white-collar staff,” mentioned Choi Min, a labour rights advocate and medical physician. “However a pointy improve in working hours and depth in a brief interval poses critical well being dangers, typically leading to deaths from overwork.”
Bae Kyu-shik, a labour skilled, means that the precedence must be boosting productiveness, reasonably than rising hours. “The federal government plan can have very completely different results from its expectations by going in opposition to younger individuals’s want for a work-life steadiness,” he mentioned.
In observe, staff doubt they may have the ability to take prolonged depart. In response to a authorities survey, staff at solely 40 per cent of Korean firms have been capable of take their full annual depart in 2020.
SJ Cho, a 43-year-old worker at one of many nation’s largest conglomerates, remembers as soon as working for 10 days throughout his vacation.
“Till the 52-hour work week restrict was launched, we couldn’t depart the workplace till our boss did as a result of they’d consider our work ethics by this,” he mentioned. “It’s a extremely aggressive setting. If I take a month of trip, I wager they may simply take away my desk.”
Regardless of the 52-hour restrict, Baek, who didn’t need to give her full title, typically works into the evening at an ecommerce begin up. “A small firm like ours at all times lacks staff. I simply endure, hoping issues will get higher as soon as our firm grows huge. But when the federal government provides a mistaken sign by reducing the hurdle, it simply makes me hand over such hope.”