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South Korea’s 69-hour workweek plan faces youth resistance; this is why


The South Korean government has been forced to reconsider its 69-hour workweek plan after negative reactions from the younger generation. The increase in working week hours is also because some countries, including Australia and the UK, are considering a four-day work week to give employees more time away from the office.

President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office instructed relevant agencies to reconsider plans to review the current 52-hour limit and “better communicate with the public, especially Generation Z and millennials,” press secretary Kim Eun-hye said in a statement Tuesday. declaration.

The working week limit was increased because authorities believed it would give employers more flexibility to keep their doors open longer to meet demand during periods of peak activity.

It is also designed to help employees save more hours that can be used for time off at times that suit them.

Earlier, when discussing the proposal, the Department of Labor had said the labor reform proposal was part of efforts to bring greater labor flexibility and improve work-life balance in a country where many women are forced to choose between their career and raising children.

It was supposed to replace a 2018 law that limited the workweek to 52 hours – 40 hours of regular work plus 12 hours of overtime. The Ministry of Employment and Labor had said the law had made the labor market more rigid.

Criticism of the 69-hour work week law

The youth of the country criticized the government, seeing it as destroying a healthy work-life balance. The unions, including those led by outspoken members of the country’s MZ generation, said the proposal would lead to more time at work and undermine progress the country has made in reducing average working hours, which lead to the highest in the developed world.

However, critics of the measure have said the measures will hurt, not help, working mothers and other women. “While men will work long hours and be exempt from care duties and duties, women will have to do all the care work,” the Korean Women’s Associations United said in a recent statement.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said in a statement: “It will make it legal to work from 9 a.m. to midnight for five days in a row. The health and rest of workers will not be taken into account.” The 8,000-member Serogochim Labor Union, many of whom are from MZ Generation, said in a statement last week that the government’s plan runs counter to global trends and could encourage workers at home to work more hours than acceptable limits.

South Korea is already considered Asia’s most overworked country with workers logging an average of 1,915 hours in 2021. This is 199 hours more than the average among members of the Economic Cooperation Organization and about 33 percent more than in Germany.

In 2017, prior to the 52-hour work week limit, hundreds of people died from overwork, CNN reports, citing government data.

Even after the 52 hours were put in place, cases of “gwarosa,” meaning “death from overwork,” continued to make headlines. In the year 2020, unions told CNN that 14 delivery workers had died due to working overtime to keep the country running during pandemic.

(With input from agencies)

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.