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Swift reform of 52-hour workweek is key to future of national economy

Swift reform of 52-hour workweek is key to future of national economy

Posted November. 18, 2022 07:41,   

Updated November. 18, 2022 07:41


An association of researchers and experts in preparations to reform work hour and pay systems held a conference on Thursday to share some input on reforming the current 52-hour workweek system in a way that manages extended work hours not weekly but monthly to yearly. Given that the Yoon Suk-yeol administration commissioned the project, many parts of the discussion during the group's meeting scheduled for next month will likely be reflected in government policies.

The experts recommended enhancing flexibility in work hours because South Korea's current system is too competitive compared to other advanced nations. Currently, the 52-hour workweek system limits the number of work hours a week to 40 hours as statutorily required and 12 hours of extended labor. By contrast, Japan counts the total work hours every month while Germany does every six months, only making South Korea one of only a few countries that manage extended labor every week.

Indeed, many South Korean businesses struggle to handle extended labor that is managed weekly by law. As R&D centers and game developers, for example, inevitably have a long array of work that should be done swiftly before new products are brought to the market, they have complained that the current limits to weekly-based work hours hinder them from accelerating the pace to launch new products and avoiding disadvantages in the global market. Such complaining voices are echoed widely across shipbuilders with a growing volume of orders being placed and air-conditioner manufacturers whose work schedule is only busy in a particular season of the year.

Construction companies must apply the work hour limits even to their employees on overseas sites. It has been pointed out that they find it hard to work together seamlessly with local workers as the latter are not subject to the South Korean system, while more time is spent until completion, putting them at a disadvantage in global competition. Added to this, SMEs of five to 30 employees have suffered a severe labor shortage since a skilled workforce of employees, who willingly worked overtime to earn extra money, quit their job in large numbers.

If extended labor is counted every month or during a longer unit period than the current weekly system, many parts of these issues can be tackled. If work hours are managed per month, the maximum can increase to 11.5 hours a day and 69 hours a week, translating into workers’ greater leeway to take a more extended break at once. In response to concerns shared by labor organizations over long work hours, the researchers argue that more than 11 hours’ break between one work day and the next can be the solution.

With the South Korean economy faced with challenges at home and abroad, the reform to the current work-hour system has great significance to the future of the national economy. This only makes it necessary for the government to develop a bold and flexible reform plan and implement it swiftly so that workers can enjoy the right to health and businesses can better manage labor.