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Gov’t plans to add flexibility to workweek system

Posted March. 07, 2023 07:52,   

Updated March. 07, 2023 07:52


The government announced on Monday that it would be overhauling the 52-hour workweek system. Instead of managing work hours weekly, which had been in place for 70 years, the government will introduce monthly, quarterly, bi-annual, and annual working allowances to promote flexibility. Employees working overtime or on holidays will be able to convert those extra work hours to vacation time. Such change requires law amendment, however, and with opposition parties, including the Democratic Party and Justice Party, against the change, it is unclear whether the new law can be passed.

The government determined and announced the plan at the Contingency Economics Minister’s Meeting today. “The current system is too rigid and uniform to accommodate today's increasingly sophisticated and varying needs,” explained Labor and Employment Minister Lee Jeong-sik.

Under the current system, employers must limit weekly working hours to 52 hours, which includes basic 40 hours and overtime of 12 hours. Violation results in penalty, which limits workers at factories who are pressed for work on certain periods or those that choose to rest after intensively working for short periods.

The reform plan aims to allow extended work hours of either 52 hours per month, 140 hours per quarter, 250 hours biannually or 440 hours a year based on agreement between union and management. Maximum weekly work hours will also be extended from 52 hours to 64-69 hours. Workers can opt to work for 69 hours if there is an 11-hour rest period between workdays. Otherwise, they must choose 64 hours.

A new system called the work-hour savings account will be introduced as well. One hour of extended, overtime or off-duty work is eligible to swap with a rest time of 1.5 hours. These hours can be saved up and used for extended holidays.

Other regulations related to worktime will also be eased. Currently, employees that work for four hours are required to rest for 30 minutes. Thus, an employee who takes a half day off needs to leave work in four and half hours. Under new regulations, the employee can opt to leave in four hours instead of working thirty minutes. Employees across any industry can opt to work flexible working hours under the 52-work hour system up to three months instead of one month. Those working in R&D positions can work up to six months instead of three.

Mee-Jee Lee image@donga.com