February 1, 2023
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As South Korean government proposes flexible overtime rules, some fear workers may suffer

SEOUL — The administration of South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol desires to permit folks to work as much as 69 hours every week — up from the present 52 — and financial institution overtime hours in change for time without work, a plan it hopes will promote household progress alongside productiveness.

The government says the plan, set to be introduced subsequent month, will present extra flexibility within the labor market. Officers say folks would work much less as a complete, encouraging them to have households and shore up a fertility fee that’s projected to hit a global-low 0.7 in 2024.

It might supersede a 2018 legislation that restricted the work week to 52 hours — 40 hours of normal work plus 12 hours of overtime. The Ministry of Employment and Labor stated in an announcement that legislation had fallen behind the occasions.

“If you are working at ice cream factories for example, you can work overtime seasonally, then save the hours of work and use later to go on a longer holiday,” the ministry stated of the reform.

The proposal would permit employers and workers to agree on whether or not to rely overtime by the week, with 12 hours allowed; the month, with 52 hours allowed; the quarter, with 140 hours allowed; a half yr, with 250 hours; or a full yr, with 440 hours of overtime allowed.

For counting durations of a month or longer, as much as 29 hours every week of overtime could be allowed, for a complete of 69 work hours in a single week. Overtime may very well be exchanged later for time without work at a fee that has not been introduced.

Solely 14% of South Koreans have been in commerce unions in 2021, knowledge present, which may restrict how a lot workers can negotiate. In an announcement, the Korean Girls’s Associations United stated “only regulations like the 52-hour workweek and pressure from labor unions can protect workers from long working hours.”

The legislation have to be handed by the Nationwide Meeting, the place Mr. Yoon’s political opponents maintain the bulk. Opposition politicians have stated they oppose the plan, with Rep. Park Yong-jin of the principle opposition Democratic Occasion of Korea calling it a “shortcut to population extinction.”

The labor ministry has dismissed such criticisms, saying the proposal would “only add more choice.”

Greater than 18% of South Koreans labored greater than 50 hours every week on the planet’s Tenth-largest economic system in 2021, in keeping with unpublished knowledge from the Organisation for Financial Co-operation and Improvement (OECD) — the fifth-highest after Turkey, Mexico, Colombia and Costa Rica.

The transfer has been welcomed by the nation’s main enterprise lobbying teams, together with the Korea Enterprise Federation, which described it as “necessary.” However some specialists are sceptical that the brand new proposal would scale back how a lot folks work.

“The beauty of introducing a 52-hour workweek was that you gave a signal to employers, unions and workers saying, ‘Listen, you really have to do something about the long working hours culture in your country,’” stated Willem Adema, a senior economist on the social coverage division of the OECD. “If the current legislation is all about giving flexibility then that’s fine. But it doesn’t seem to be interpreted as such.”

The government says permitting workers to spend accrued overtime hours on holidays will imply individuals who wish to work much less — comparable to dad and mom or caregivers — will likely be ready to take action.

Extending working hours, even quickly, impacts girls greater than males, stated Lee Min-Ah, Professor of Sociology at Chung-Ang College.

“When male partners work more, women’s economic activity will be discouraged and their responsibility of childcare will only increase,” Ms. Lee stated.

The nation already has the bottom fertility fee on the planet, and a quickly ageing inhabitants. The working-age inhabitants peaked at 38 million in 2019 and is about to drop by greater than 9 million by 2040, government knowledge present.

Lee Yoon-sun, a 29-year-old workplace employee, stated working high-intensity hours after which taking time without work could be disruptive.

“Working long hours when you have a heavy workload and then resting when you are less busy seems like a pattern that will lead to an irregular life, affecting having children and taking care of them,” stated Lee, who doesn’t have kids.

Different workers say the brand new plan ignores a whole lot of the cultural and social nuances of labor in South Korea.

“If it’s 6 p.m., you don’t just run out the door, you carefully put on your clothes and make sure you watch what your co-workers are doing so you are not the one leaving while everyone else is still working,” stated Albert Kim, a 27-year-old residing in Seoul, who additionally doesn’t have kids. “There are a lot of gray areas I wish the proposal would have addressed.” — Reuters

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