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Workers’ rights to work flexibly

Posted March. 07, 2023 07:51,   

Updated March. 07, 2023 07:51


On Monday, the Korean government proposed a bill to amend the Labor Standards Act to allow workers to work up to 69 hours a week when work is heavy and take an extended vacation when work is light. The plan is to increase the flexibility of the rigid 52-hour workweek to make it easier for companies to manage their workforce and give workers more freedom to choose their working hours. It is a significant change to the Labor Standards Act, which was created 70 years ago in 1953. The government plans to submit the revised bill to the National Assembly after June.

The core of the revision is to diversify the calculation unit of working hours from a weekly to monthly, quarterly, half-yearly, and yearly basis to allow labor and management to select by consensus. Currently, it is illegal to work more than 52 hours in a week, but under the revised bill, there will be no problem if the average weekly working hours during a pre-agreed period, be it a month or quarter, is 52 hours. The maximum workweek is 69 hours with an 11-hour break between workdays and 64 hours without the 11-hour break. The extra overtime hours can also be saved and converted into breaks of 1.5 times longer hours. A worker who works 24 extra hours a week for four weeks will have 18 days of time off based on an 8-hour workday. 11 straight hours of break between workdays is also an option for labor and management.

Korea’s 52-hour workweek, with 40 hours of statutory work and 12 hours of overtime, is too rigid compared to the labor systems in most advanced countries, where the calculation unit varies from one month to one year. Japan allows overtime work up to 100 hours a month and 720 hours a year. Germany and the United Kingdom have six months and 17 weeks, respectively. Regulations of uniform working hours have been a serious challenge for ventures corporate research institutes and seasonal businesses in Korea, where work is mostly concentrated in the final stages of product development. In small and medium-sized firms, workers whose incomes have dropped due to the reduced overtime hours, which earned them 1.5 times as much, have protested, saying, “Why should the government keep us from having the freedom to work more?”

The standardized working hours created during the “factory era” are one factor hindering Korea’s competitiveness on the global stage. It stifles startups and ventures that will shape the future of our economy, making it difficult for us to compete with companies in developed countries. Given the rapid progress of the fourth industrial revolution and the spread of a new type of freelancing called “gig labor,” flexible working hours are an inevitable trend. The government must expand workers’ rights to choose their working hours and conditions as much as possible through bold institutional reforms.