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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 extra time 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 routinely shortly after six. I’ve to get permission from my boss six hours earlier than working extra time,” mentioned Chang, who didn’t need her full identify to be revealed. “I actually don’t wish to return to these outdated days with out evenings.”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 virtually twice France’s 35-hour week.

Proponents of the plan argue it may supply an answer to the issue posed by an ageing inhabitants and a declining workforce, however even in a rustic identified for its workaholic tradition, it has prompted a backlash.

Below a system launched in 2018, the South Korean work week includes 40 hours of normal work and 12 hours of extra time. Companies that breach the foundations can face penalties.

The proposed change permits employers to rely extra time on a month-to-month, quarterly and yearly foundation. The federal government argues that it’ll allow staff to financial institution extra extra time in busy durations, which they will later take again as go away.

The labour ministry mentioned the present weekly restrict restricted the rights of corporations and staff to decide on their working hours. In Korea’s ageing society, it argued that prolonged durations of go away would enable extra household time, even increase the nation’s falling fertility price.

South Korea’s complete fertility price fell beneath the so-called alternative beginning price of two.1 births per girl in 1984 and has been falling ever since, which means that fewer and fewer contemporary graduates are becoming a member of the workforce. The speed is now the bottom on the planet at 0.78.

“We will resolve critical social issues like quick ageing and low beginning charges by permitting girls to decide on their working hours extra flexibly,” mentioned labour minister Lee Jung-sik.

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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 concept”. “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 fundamental opposition celebration has vowed to dam the reform, noting a excessive prevalence of labor accidents and deaths as a consequence of over work. There have been 739 claims for state compensation as a consequence of deaths from overwork in 2021, labour ministry information suggests. Almost 40 per cent of those claims had been accredited.

The nation’s workaholic tradition contributed to its speedy industrialisation over the previous half century and helped rework it into the world’s tenth largest economic system.

South Koreans put in a median 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 strain to succeed.

“Lengthy hours of labor at low wages continues to be rampant within the nation whereas strain to remain forward stays sturdy 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.”

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Bae Kyu-shik, a labour skilled, means that the precedence ought to be boosting productiveness, reasonably than rising hours. “The federal government plan can have very totally different results from its expectations by going towards younger individuals’s want for a work-life steadiness,” he mentioned.

In observe, staff doubt they may be capable to take prolonged go away. In line with a authorities survey, staff at solely 40 per cent of Korean corporations had been in a position to take their full annual go away in 2020.

SJ Cho, a 43-year-old worker at one of many nation’s largest conglomerates, recollects as soon as working for 10 days throughout his vacation.

“Till the 52-hour work week restrict was launched, we couldn’t go away 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 atmosphere. If I take a month of trip, I guess they may simply take away my desk.”

Regardless of the 52-hour restrict, Baek, who didn’t wish to give her full identify, typically works into the evening at an ecommerce begin up. “A small firm like ours all the time 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 decreasing the hurdle, it simply makes me surrender such hope.”