South Korea 69-hour workweek plan reversed after youth backlash


For Im, a 30-year-old who has a company job in South Korea, a typical workday begins at 9 a.m. and ends as late as 10 p.m. He works as much as 70 hours on busy weeks, nicely above the 52-hour authorized restrict set by the federal government in 2018. There isn’t a additional pay for the time beyond regulation he places in, he says.

Im, who spoke on the situation that solely his final title be used as a result of he was not licensed by his employer to talk publicly, is among the many hundreds of thousands of South Koreans of their 20s or 30s who had been exasperated by final week’s proposal from President Yoon Suk Yeol’s administration to lift the authorized cap on weekly work hours to 69.

In a uncommon coverage reversal, the federal government will rethink the plan after a vocal pushback from youthful adults. “The president views workweeks longer than 60 hours as unrealistic, even when including overtime,” Ahn Sang-hoon, a senior presidential adviser, advised reporters Thursday. “The government will listen more carefully to opinions from MZ workers” amongst others, he added, utilizing the collective time period generally utilized in South Korea for millennials and people in Technology Z.

“I think it’s a positive sign that the president has taken a step back after listening to younger generations,” mentioned Kim Seol, the chief of Youth Neighborhood Union, a labor activist group that advocates higher working circumstances for youthful adults. “But it’s also proof that the president didn’t really think this through,” he mentioned.

Yoon’s disapproval ranking amongst South Koreans of their 20s and 30s jumped to 66 p.c and 79 p.c respectively on March 10, 4 days after the federal government formally introduced the 69-hour proposal, in accordance with Gallup Korea. (The scores had been 57 p.c and 62 p.c respectively on March 3.) Disapproval scores from different age teams throughout the identical interval both stayed related or decreased.

Gen Z got here to ‘slay.’ Their bosses don’t know what meaning.

By legislation, the South Korean workweek is 40 hours with as much as 12 hours of weekly time beyond regulation, so long as the employer compensates staff with additional trip or pay. In follow, time beyond regulation continuously goes unrewarded, in accordance with staff of their 20s and 30s who spoke to The Publish. Employers nudge them to do leftover earn a living from home within the evenings, they are saying, and in some instances accuse them of being inefficient to keep away from authorized scrutiny for the prolonged hours.

Daniel Kim, a 35-year-old who works within the medical trade as a researcher, mentioned he as soon as went by means of an eight-month interval when he couldn’t go residence earlier than 10 p.m. Eighty-hour workweeks weren’t unprecedented at his firm, he mentioned. His spouse, who’s employed by a pharmaceutical agency and sometimes works into the evening, was wrapping up work from home as he was being interviewed for this story round 9 p.m. Wednesday.

South Koreans work a mean of 1,915 hours a yr, whereas Individuals work 1,791 hours, in accordance with the most recent figures from the Group for Financial Cooperation and Growth. The OECD common is 1,716 hours.

Neighboring Japan — which twenty years in the past had work hours above the OECD imply and continues to be taking steps to beat the issue of karoshi, or deaths from overworking — final yr averaged 1,607 hours. At the moment, “working excessively long hours is frowned upon” in Japan, mentioned Motohiro Morishima, a professor of human useful resource administration at Gakushuin College in Tokyo. South Korea ought to search to extend productiveness, not working hours, he mentioned.

“If there is more work, [South Korean] employers should hire more people,” mentioned Lee Jong-sun, a professor of labor relations at Korea College’s Graduate Faculty of Labor Research in Seoul. That approach, extra jobs are created and overwork is decreased, he mentioned.

However corporations not often do, he mentioned, as a result of they both don’t have the monetary capability or as a result of it’s cheaper to ask present staff to select up the slack. “Hiring new people means more benefits, insurance and more wages,” Lee mentioned. “It’s more expensive.”

As just lately as 20 years in the past, South Koreans had been anticipated to work 5½ days every week. On Saturday mornings, kids would go to highschool whereas dad and mom headed to the workplace for a half-day. It was solely in 2011 that the nation absolutely adopted the five-day workweek. Seven years later, the nation capped weekly working hours at 52.

“Nobody wants to go back to longer weeks,” mentioned Lee, 58, who remembers when he must sacrifice participation at household gatherings on Saturdays to go to work. Legalizing a workweek of 60-plus hours can be like sending the nation again in time, he mentioned. “We’ve already felt the benefits of shorter weeks. Why would anyone want to go back?”

Im, who works the company job, received married this yr — and mentioned a 69-hour workweek would imply giving up his and his spouse’s hope of getting two children. “Who’s going to take care of the baby if mom and dad are at work all day?” he mentioned. “It’s frustrating, but there’s little I can do about it.” He expressed doubt that South Korea’s world-lowest birthrate of 0.78 would enhance beneath such a system.

Lengthy hours are related to low birthrates as a result of they’re “antithetical to caring and they make the clash between work and care” tough, mentioned Rae Cooper, a professor of gender and employment relations on the College of Sydney. “South Korea sits near the top of the list” of nations with lengthy working hours, she mentioned, including: “This is not a prize to be celebrated.”


An earlier model of this text incorrectly mentioned Gakushuin College is in Kyoto, Japan. The college is in Tokyo. The article has been corrected.

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