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The South Korean government is planning a labor reform that would allow some industries and professions to work flexibly without being subject to the 52-hour work week scheme. The move reflects the results of a national survey that suggested it would be difficult to meet the diverse needs of different sectors and jobs and is aimed at allowing employees to work more during peak periods while taking a break during off-peak periods.
But concerns are rising that the labor reform promoted by the Yoon Suk Yeol administration could drift for a while as a detailed plan, including qualifying sectors and occupations, will be discussed via a labor-management dialogue. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions also decided to return to social dialogue for now.
“The government will support the labor-management dialogue by promptly launching an empirical data analysis and additional surveys to select industrial sectors and occupations that need reforms in their working hours,” Vice Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Sung-hee said during a briefing on the direction of working hour reform at the Government Complex Sejong on Monday. The current 52-hour workweek is comprised of the 40-hour base workweek and up to 12 hours of overtime. The government’s announcement is aimed at allowing overtime work to be managed on a monthly or quarterly basis to allow intensive work when needed in industrial sites.
The Employment Ministry also released the results of a survey in which both labor and management said that “overtime should be managed in a greater time span” in the manufacturing and construction industries and in the installation, maintenance, production, health and medical, research, and engineering jobs.
However, the latest announcement is a step back from the original plan released by the Employment Ministry in March 2023 to apply overtime on a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, and annual basis. At the time, the government reconsidered the plan amid criticism that it would lead to a “69-hour workweek” and has been conducting a large-scale supplementary work by surveying 6,030 citizens. Still, the latest plan released eight months afterwards is also being criticized for lacking details as it does not even specify the industries and jobs that will be eligible for exception from the existing overtime management system, leaving the decision to labor and management, and did not even provide a roadmap for future legislation.
By Lee Yoon-sik, Lee Jin-han, and Choi Jieun
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]