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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on June 13)

All News 07:48 June 13, 2016

Where is Korea's Toyota?
Japanese carmaker's work-at-home plan is inspirational

Korean corporations should keep a close eye on Toyota's ambitious expansion of its work-at-home program.

Japanese media last week spotlighted the plans of Japan's largest company to introduce a telecommute program allowing around 35 percent of its employees to do most of their work outside the office. Under the program, 25,000 out of its 72,000 workers will only have to go to the office as little as two hours a week, instead working at home on PCs equipped with security systems to prevent data leaks. Through the plan, Toyota hopes to support employees with children and those looking after elderly family members. Workers in clerical and engineering positions who meet certain credentials based on their duration of service will be eligible for the program. Toyota is talking with trade unions for early adoption of the program, possibly by the end of August.

We strongly hope this inspires Korean companies to learn from its example and perceive family-first measures not as optional but as an imperative strategy for growth.

Toyota's work-at-home plan comes as the Japanese government is actively stepping up efforts to battle its low birthrate and the problems of an aging society. To turn around Japan's demographic descent, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe created a cabinet minister post and announced the "100 Million Active People" policy for stabilizing the country's population at 100 million in a half century, from the current 126.88 million. Abe has demonstrated a strong determination to deal with Japan's low birthrate, and has pledged to increase the figure to 1.8 children per woman.

It is refreshing to see active cooperation and long-term thinking from the Japanese government and from corporations for the national goal of responding to population problems.

It is also alarming to learn that not just Toyota but many other companies in Japan such as Nissan and the leading builder Shimizu are actively implementing measures for promoting work-life balance. A survey by Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication shows that around 12 percent of Japanese companies are implementing some form of telecommuting arrangements to make it easier for workers to handle domestic demands. The number is a huge increase from 2 percent at the end of 2000.

Unlike the situation in Japan, Korea's corporations have not vigorously responded to the need to promote work-life balance as a way of dealing with the low birthrate crisis, even though Korea's birthrate of just 1.21 is lower than Japan's. A recent report shows Korea stuck at the bottom of the work-life balance index, with the proportion of Koreans working more than 50 hours per week way higher that than the OECD average.

Local companies have been reluctant about providing even the most basic facilities for working women such as in-house daycare centers. A recent study by the Ministry of Health and Welfare showed that many companies were in violation of the government ordinance to operate childcare centers. Many women, not to mention men, shun taking childcare leave, fearing the consequences of missing work. With this kind of rigid culture, women will continue to face huge obstacles in balancing work and family. Hurdles facing women after childbirth have already dented the participation of young women in the nation's workforce. The employment rate of women aged 35-39 stood at near the bottom of 34 OECD countries.

With one of the lowest birthrates among OECD countries, Korea's corporations have a responsibility to take bold initiatives to promote work-life balance. It is not enough for leading companies like Hyundai and Samsung to make products with global reputations. They should also lead by example in creating a family-oriented work culture. Which Korean company will think outside the box like Toyota did?

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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