- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2018

South Korean businesses are worried they won’t be able to cut it if workers are limited by law to a measly 52 hours of work a week.

While the 40-hour workweek may be the standard in the U.S. — and 35 hours the maximum in France, the statutory cap on the workweek in South Korea had been 68 hours before the parliament in March approved a measure cutting the maximum to 52 hours starting July 1 for companies employing 300 or more workers.

Companies are being given a six-month “grace period” to fall in line.

While that is still the equivalent of six 8.6-hour days, big employers are still unhappy, according to a report this week in the Korea Herald newspaper.

The Korea Pharmaceutical and Biopharma Manufacturers Association (KPBMA) announced Monday it would ask for an exemption for the drug industry from the 52-hour ceiling, saying it doesn’t qualify for a break as the new law is written for special periods when the extra hours might be needed.

“We’re reviewing ways to seek for ways to potentially introduce wider application of flexible work hours that meet the reality,” a KPBMA spokesperson told the South Korean newspaper.

Under the new mandate, South Koreans can work 40 normal hours and at most an additional 12 hours of overtime. To keep the national economic machine humming at the same pace, businesses would have to spend an additional $11 billion a year, according to an analysis by the Korean Economic Research Institute.

The new rule allows companies to offset the amount of time needed for a “core work” period by averaging worker hours over a longer period, from two weeks to several months. Certain “special industries” — including health care and some transportation companies — are exempted from the new limits.

But drug companies say the restrictions could result in an up to 15 percent production decline, and fails to recognize the reality of time-sensitive R&D.

South Korean banks have also complained about the workweek limits, but say implementing the change may take longer than expected.

“I understand top-level management is still discussing the issue. We are not in a rush. We will implement the rule once we are fully prepared. There is still time,” a Shinhan Bank Official told the Korea Times newspaper.

Some banks, such as the state-operated Export-Import Bank of Korea, ruled out the possibility of implementing the rule this year.

With many of their competitors scrambling as the July 1 implementation date approaches, banks such as the Industrial Bank of Korea and the BNK Busan Bank are preparing for the change by automatically shutting down office computers to encourage workers to leave the office on time.

One of Asia’s richest and most technologically advanced countries, South Korea is also one of the most overworked. The push to reduce the maximum workweek standard was a top priority of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The average South Korean worker puts in 2,113 hours at the office or the factory in a year, compared to just 1,779 hours for the average U.S. worker, according to the OECD.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide