Credit: Office of the President.
As a presidential candidate, Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 decried the Moon Jae-in 문재인 administration’s 52-hour maximum work week policy, arguing instead for a 120-hour work week. On December 12, the Ministry of Employment Labor 고용노동부 issued a proposal that would allow a maximum work week of between 69 and 80.5 hours a week.
The Future Labor Market Research Society 미래노동시장연구회, a study group under the Ministry, issued a report proposing that the maximum allowable overtime (i.e. 12 hours a week) be changed into a pool of hours allocated over a longer time period: 52 hours a month, 140 hours a quarter, 250 hours per six months, or 440 hours a year. The goal, according to the Research Society, is to allow companies to apply overtime hours flexibly, while decreasing the total number of overtime hours over the course of a year. The yearly allowance of 440 hours, for example, is 30% less than 625 hours, or the weekly allowance times 52.
The Research Society’s proposed formula for working hours also mandates a 11-hour continuous rest period between leaving and coming to work. Combined with the Framework Act on Labor Welfare’s 근로기준법, existing formula requiring a mandatory 30 minute break every four hours the proposed formula would result in a maximum of 11.5 hours of work per day, or a 69-hour work week assuming six days of work per week. Employers can also pay employees extra to work a seven-day week, which results in a legal maximum of 80.5 work hours per week.
The Research Society argued that its formula reduces the total work hours while allowing the flexibility to handle busy periods. Labor unions say the yearly maximum is virtually unenforceable in small companies without a union. Even if the system operated as intended, a lengthy work week poses significant health risks while increasing the likelihood of workplace accidents.
Each year, around 2k South Korean workers file claims for cerebrovascular disease caused by overwork; around 600 of them die, typically from heart attack or brain hemorrhage. The enforcement decree of the Ministry of Employment and Labor currently stipulated that a strong correlation between overwork and illness or death is presumed if an employee worked more than 60 hours a week.