Big Change ahead for S. Korea's Labor Standards | Be Korea-savvy

Big Change ahead for S. Korea’s Labor Standards

Koreans might be the hardest and longest working people on the planet. (image:jlcwalker/flickr)

SEOUL, April 10, 2014 (Korea bizwire) – The discussion in the National Assembly surrounding cutting back on work hours is gradually converging on the introduction of a 52-hour workweek scheme.

The subcommittee for labor-management-government negotiation for social issues under the National Assembly’s Environmental and Labor Committee held on April 7 a third meeting to narrow the difference on work hour reduction and the definition of the “ordinary wage,” a hot-potato issue that would determine the level of bonuses, overtime allowances, and retirement pensions. The subcommittee will hold a public hearing for two days on the 9th and 10th. 

Once the participants in the subcommittee find common grounds on the issue of work hour cut and the agreement finally passes into a law, this is the first time since July 2004 when the five-day workweek scheme was introduced to see a major change in labor legislation. 

It is already a well-known fact that Korea is the country among the 28 Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation member nations with the longest labor time. According to the Ministry of Employment & Labor, the annual work hours per employee in Korea as of 2012 were 2,092 hours, 387 hours more than the OECD average of 1,705 hours. The yearly work hours for Japan and the Netherlands are 1,765 and 1,334 hours, respectively. 

(graphic:Kobizmedia/Korea Bizwire)

The government is pushing forward with a plan to cut the work hours as an important way to help work-family balance and create new jobs. The unions are also in agreement with cutting work hours, but with no corresponding wage cuts. 

The current labor law permits employers to keep their workers up to 52 hours a week, including the basic 40 hours plus 12 more hours under mutual written agreement between management and labor. Including 16 hours for weekend work, employers can hold their workers up to 68 hours a week. Combined with the exceedingly complicated wage scheme, with very low basic wage and a variety of allowances, the practice of working employees long hours has been in place for so many years. 

If the 52-hour work week is firmly in place, the companies must hire additional workers to fill weekend shifts as they have only 12 additional hours to use from each worker. The government is reviewing plans to introduce the scheme in stages so that it can minimize side effects while creating more flextime and work-at-home positions.

Written by Sean Chung (

Policies & Law (Follow us @Policynews_Korea)


2 thoughts on “Big Change ahead for S. Korea’s Labor Standards

  1. Pingback: [Kobiz Stats] Annual Working Hours Per Capita | Be Korea-savvy

  2. Pingback: Korean Free Trade Aggreement | Old unionist

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