SEOUL, Jul. 18 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korean retailers have moved quickly to create a favorable work environment for expecting and child-rearing mothers, including incentives for fathers, industry observers said Tuesday.
Retail businesses have been fast movers in accommodating women who in most cases make up nearly half of their workforces. With the government encouraging more women to hold on to their careers or return to work after marriage and childbirth, the industry has introduced an array of measures to follow the policy measures, officials say.
Lotte Group was the first local company to make paternity child-rearing leave mandatory at all of its affiliates as of Jan. 1 this year. Fathers must take one month off when their spouses have children. Paternal leave is rarely used because fathers are paid 1 million won (US$886) per month while away. Lotte is giving the fathers full basic pay for the first month of leave.
Group officials said 310 men have used the benefit in the first half of this year, compared with 180 for the whole of last year. The conglomerate hopes to raise the rate of paternity leave to 30 percent this year from the current 13 percent.
In April, Lotte launched a “daddy school” for fathers to teach them about sharing household chores and taking care of babies.
For female workers, Lotte extended child-rearing leave from one year to two to better reflect the reality of caring for babies.
Shinsegae Group lets pregnant women decide when to come into work and leave, and cut their daily work time by two hours. Mothers can have one year more of child-rearing leave. Since March, the company has also been providing leave to women getting fertility treatment. The conglomerate operates child care centers at its affiliates across the country.
To prevent employees from having to work after office hours, Shinsegae has banned sending online messages after workers leave the office and is promoting a campaign to ban overnight working shifts.
Pregnant women who are on reduced work hours are paid their full salary, and women who return to work are given a choice of which departments they want to work in.
At CJ Group, all employees can take up to a month of leave when their child enters elementary school. The first two weeks is paid leave. The business group allows two hours of reduced work time a day in case of child-related emergencies.
Fathers can take two weeks of paid leave when their spouses give birth, while women can cut their work hours by two for the eight critical weeks of their pregnancy.
All employees can take a month off every five years to “refresh” themselves, with a bonus payment from the company. Like Shinsegae, online messages are discouraged after work hours and on weekends.
Flexible work hours are available for up to a year after childbirth for mothers, and the company provides financial assistance for couples being treated for infertility.
“Social environments have greatly changed amid low birthrates. Balancing work and family through flexibility in work has become a survival strategy for companies and for countries,” a Ministry of Employment and Labor official said. “Once these systems properly take root, workers will have higher productivity, and companies will be able to lower their costs.”