Yoon orders gov’t to accommodate public opinions in labor reform plan

2023.03.15 10:56:02 | 2023.03.15 12:42:01

Kim Eun-hye, presidential secretary for press affairs, on Tuesday [Photo by Yonhap]이미지 확대

Kim Eun-hye, presidential secretary for press affairs, on Tuesday [Photo by Yonhap]

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has ordered the government to make sure the diverse opinions of the workers, particularly young employees, are taken into consideration when drawing up a final labor reform bill.

“(The government) should review ways to complement the bill and (enhance) communication with the people by closely considering the diverse opinions of the workers that came up during legislation notice period,” Yoon was quoted as saying in a statement by Kim Eun-hye, presidential secretary for press affairs, on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor gave a legislative notice on March 6 on a labor reform measure that flexibly applies up to 69 work hours per week from the current 52 hours. The plan received a backlash from the labor union groups and young employees.

Yoon’s remarks on Tuesday show that he is trying to ease the criticisms and resolve a misunderstanding. They, however, do not mean that the government should go back to square one and introduce a new plan, but instead it should reflect the public responses.

The presidential office explained that the government’s proposal is to allow “up to” 69 work hours per week and the idea is subject for discussion between the management and labor. Companies should also offer enough annual leaves to their workers.

It made clear that the idea is not to add more work hours to 69 from 52 hours. It is to allow employees to work more flexibly, from time to time, up to 69 hours per week when they are extremely busy, and go on long-term holidays when they are less busy.

The labor ministry unveiled the revised plan to the existing 52-hour workweek after accommodating expert opinions and issued a legislative notice for a revised labor standards act last week.

Under the revised act, extended hours can be managed on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly basis through a labor-management consensus instead of the existing non-flexible 52-hour workweek. The payment of optional work hours, which allows workers to determine their workweek and work schedule, can also be executed on a three-month term instead of one month for regular workers and a six-month term instead of three months for research and development functions.

The government’s plan was aimed to extend the maximum work hours to up to 69 hours a week to allow workers to take time off during less busy periods while keeping the average work hours at 52 hours a week, which is similar to the flexible hours in Japan. Average weekly work hours over four weeks, however, cannot exceed 64 hours, which is a standard to prevent industrial accidents from long work hours.

Small and medium-sized companies in Gyeonggi Province [Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]이미지 확대

Small and medium-sized companies in Gyeonggi Province [Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]

Workers can also work up to 69 hours only if they have at least an 11-hour break in between the working hours.

Employees, however, are in doubt.

According to a national barometer survey conducted by pollsters Embrain Public, Kstat Research, Korea Research International and Hankook Research on 1,008 adults nationwide from Jan. 9 to 11, 45 percent of the respondents were in favor of the new labor plan while 48 percent were opposed to it.

The opposition was more prevalent among the young people as 39 percent of the respondents aged between 18 and 29 favored the plan while 57 percent of them did not. The survey showed that 60 percent of those aged between 30 and 49 were against the plan while 34 percent were in favor.

Concerns rise, in the meantime, in the information technology industry that young workers at small and medium-sized companies will be most affected by the new plan.

Unlike large companies that offer overtime pay and many welfare benefits, many SMEs do not have labor unions and give non-written work instructions.

“The work culture here allows workers to voluntarily work intensively at the beginning of every month and take a break at the month-end as long as they work 208 hours a month,” said a male worker in his 30s who left an SME for a big gaming company. “But workers were often forced to a ‘crunch mode’ in my previous workplace.”

A crunch mode refers to an emergency work practice where employees temporarily work extended hours ahead of project deadlines in the gaming and IT industries.

Labor Minister Lee Jung-sik is expected to meet with members of Saerogochim, a labor union council that comprises of young employees, as early as March 22 and hear feedback for improvement in the labor reform measure.

By Park In-hye, Lee Jong-hyuk, Park Dong-hyuk, Kim Dae-eun, and Choi Jieun

[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]