South Korea is known for its hard-working and competitive culture, but it is also facing the challenges of long working hours, low productivity, and high stress levels. In 2018, the country introduced a historic reform of its labor system: the 52-hour workweek, which aims to reduce working hours and improve work-life balance. However, the system has also sparked mixed reactions and debates among workers, employers, and the public.
The 52-hour workweek system applies to companies with 300 or more employees, and will be expanded to those with 50 to 299 employees in 2024. The system limits the weekly working hours to 40 regular hours and 12 overtime hours, with some exceptions for certain industries and occupations. The government has decided to keep the system, but also introduce some flexibility measures for special cases where it is difficult to reduce working hours, such as manufacturing, medical, and research sectors.
The decision was based on a survey of workers, employers, and the public, which showed mixed opinions on the effectiveness and challenges of the 52-hour workweek. Some workers welcomed the system, saying that it improved their quality of life, health, and creativity. Others complained that it reduced their income, productivity, and competitiveness. Some employers supported the system, saying that it enhanced efficiency, innovation, and cooperation. Others opposed the system, saying that it created labor shortages, increased costs, and hampered growth. The public also had diverse views on the system, with some praising it as a progressive and necessary policy, and others criticizing it as a one-size-fits-all solution.
The government has said that it will seek to form a national consensus through dialogue with labor and management, and also support small and medium-sized enterprises in implementing the system. The government has also cited the positive effects of the system on the country’s culture and economy, such as fostering a shift from a quantity-oriented to a quality-oriented growth model, promoting gender equality and work-life balance, and reducing stress and improving health.
The 52-hour workweek system is a challenge and an opportunity for South Korea, as it tries to balance the demands of its fast-paced and competitive society with the needs of its people and environment. The system is also a reflection of the changing values and expectations of the younger generation, who are seeking more freedom, happiness, and meaning in their work and life. The system is not a perfect solution, but it is a bold and ambitious attempt to transform the country’s labor culture and create a better future for all.
– Korea to maintain 52-hour workweek, The Korea Times, November 13, 2023
– Gov’t to relax controversial 52-hour workweek, Korea JoongAng Daily, November 13, 2023
– South Korea’s 52-hour workweek: A boon or bane for workers?, The Diplomat, November 10, 2023
– South Korea to keep 52-hour workweek, but with more flexibility, Nikkei Asia, November 14, 2023