South Korea’s National Assembly passed a bill on 2/28/18 to bring the country’s maximum legal workweek hours down from 68 to 52.
People are overworked.
South Koreans have turned into workaholics since their economy started blossoming in the 1980’s: On average, a South Korean employee works 2,069 hours a year, which averages out to around 40 hours/week over the course of 50 weeks.
An employee in the United States, on the other hand, only works an average of 1,783 hours a year, or, 35 hours/week.
This also translates into South Korea having the second-longest workweek in the world, compared to other developed economies (not including China and India).
And while this might be viewed as a good thing to some – by strong global capitalists, and especially by the South Korean businesses benefitting from the extra hours of hard work (productivity and global domination and the importance of a strong economy, and etc.) – it has, especially in recent years, had an impact on quality of life.
Despite those aforementioned annual-hours-worked numbers being 500 fewer than they were in 2000, South Koreans still work 400 more hours a year than employees in the UK and Australia do. And spending that much time in the office, behind a desk or computer screen or both, and conversely spending less time on personal well-being and happiness, has been continually proven to be detrimental to mental health.
According to minister of family and gender equality Chung Hyun-back, the “inhumanely long” work hours have contributed to the rapid aging of the South Korean population.
But that’s not the only reason this bill was introduced:
The other reason seeks address a more specific consequence of overwork and long hours: Low birth rates. South Korea’s birth rate hit a record low last year, and there simply aren’t enough South Koreans being brought into the world.
The ambitious office hours have been identified as a large part of the reason why.
But what about the businesses?
The businesses community is, of course, less than enthused.
Previous to this new bill, the weekend was not counted toward the workweek – companies could add an extra 16 hours of work to their employee’s load without any sort of penalty. Now, the workweek will be 40 hours officially, with only 12 hours of overtime available, including on weekends. It has been estimated that these overtime hours could cost businesses as much as $11 billion per year to get the same output in production.
Which means the vacation is over for the fat cats of South Korea.
The law will take effect this July, 2018. It will first apply to big business before being implemented for smaller companies.
Current president Moon Jae-in, who was elected in 2017 after previous president Park Geun-hye was impeached, promised the cuts as part of his campaign. He also recently secured a 16% increase for minimum wages across the country.