SEOUL, Jan. 30 (Korea Bizwire) — Banks in South Korea returned to their pre-pandemic operation hours for the first time in about 1 1/2 years Monday in line with the government’s eased virus curbs despite their labor unions’ protest.
First-tier banks, including KB Kookmin, Shinhan, Hana, Woori and NH Nonghyup, along with other financial institutions, returned to their usual 9 a.m.-4 p.m. business schedule from the shortened 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. operation hours, first temporarily adopted in the summer of 2021 under the government’s toughened virus curbs.
The change came as the government lifted the indoor mask mandate on the day, one of the last remaining COVID-19 restrictions put in place to stem the spread of the contagious virus that landed in South Korea on Jan. 20, 2020.
In July 2021, banks decided to temporarily shorten their operation hours by one hour from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. to 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. in the greater Seoul area.
Banks and their labor unions agreed in October of the same year to enforce the shortened working hours nationwide as the government further tightened social distancing rules.
Banks had recently pushed to return to the pre-pandemic working hours in line with the government’s planned easing of curbs.
Complaints among customers had also mounted as the shortened operation hours reduced offline access to banks and other financial institutions.
The labor unions in the sector, however, have strongly protested the move, threatening to take legal action against what they called a “unilateral” decision.
Later in the day, an association of the labor unions issued a statement, reaffirming its opposition to the working hours change.
It claimed the return to normal operation hours is a move that ignores the fact that the number of offline bank branches has declined sharply to improve profitability in the midst of the pandemic when people increased use of internet banking.
“Unless they bring back the closed offline branches, things would not be the same before and after the outbreak of COVID-19,” the association said.