[THE INVESTOR] The newly adopted 52-workweek policy for conglomerates, which kicked off this week in Korea, is already causing confusion and frustration among some workers.
“As the enterprise resources planning system is shut down after 6:30 p.m., employees are being overloaded and have to work in their cars or at home,” said an employee from tobacco company KT&G, who wished to be unnamed.
“There seem to be some complaints and confusion among employees over the new policy,” the KT&G employee added.
Pro-labor policies risk hurting productivity
One in five Koreans work 54 hours or more
The Korean government implemented the new act on July 1 to reduce the maximum workweek from the previous 68 to 52 -- 40 regular working hours plus 12 hours of overtime. The policy is aimed at guaranteeing a better work-life balance among workers.
Companies with 300 or more staff members are currently subject to the new labor rules, while smaller companies are required to adopt the changes by 2020.
The Moon government is giving employers a six-month grace period to comply with the new law.
Those who breach the 52-workweek rules could be fined up to 20 million won (US$17,860), or top executives could face up to two years in prison.
Under the new act, employers have to pay time and a half to employees for the additional 12 hours after 40 hours, and pay double for any shift worked at night or on the weekend.
Controversy over the new rules was spreading widely even before the implementation.
The new act can place a burden on small businesses in particular, as reduced wages on fewer hours will make it more difficult to hire skilled employees, consequently leading to reductions in productivity. Workers complain they will be forced to work one way or another, regardless of the new rules.
“Workers still turn the lights off and continue to work without overwork pay,” an employee from SsangYong Motor said.
An employee at electricity company Korea Midland Power said he had to take a pay cut of 300,000 won per month due to the reduced working hours.
In an ironic twist, President Moon Jae-in took eight days of sick leave due to overwork just before the new labor rules began.
“It is embarrassing to have been sick due to overwork as I, as president, have emphasized that we need to move away from a society of overwork,” Moon said during a Cabinet meeting on July 2 held after he returned.
According to 2017 data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Koreans worked an average of 2,024 hours annually, the third highest among OECD members. Mexican and Costa Rican workers put in 2,257 hours and 2,179 for the year on average, respectively.
By Kim Young-won (email@example.com)