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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 1)

All News 07:52 June 01, 2018

Short Workweek
Measures needed to protect SMEs from side effects

The 52-hour workweek will be introduced starting on July 1 at companies with more than 300 workers, with the aim of offering the shorter working hours at all workplaces by 2021. This is a significant cut from the current maximum, which is 68 hours.

There are high hopes among Korean workers that the new workweek will enhance their quality of life which has been hampered by excessive office time. Korea is known for some of the longest working hours among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. In 2016, Koreans worked an average of 2,069 hours, which is the second-longest after Mexico. This is well above the OECD average of 1,764 hours. However, despite the long hours, Koreans have consistently lagged in productivity compared to other OECD countries.

Reducing work hours was one of President Moon Jae-in's election pledges for improving people's work-life balance. "The shorter workweek to be introduced in July will bring huge changes to our society and it is something we have yet to experience," Moon said during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday. "Our workers will be able to get away from the fatigue of the long hours and spend more time with their families and have quality evening time."

The long work hours have been cited as one of the factors hampering working Koreans from starting a family. This has resulted in one of the lowest birthrates in the world. When considering these social problems, cutting the workweek is a step in the right direction."Moms and dads will have more time to take care of their children together," Moon said.

Although it is necessary to relieve Koreans from excessive work, there are still problems with the shorter workweek. First is whether it is applicable to all industries, as some lines of work, such as in construction or IT, may require working late into the night.

There are also huge discrepancies between the government's prospects and those of the business sector. The government expects that with the shorter workweek, companies will hire more. But a recent survey by the Korea Federation of SMEs showed more than 80 percent of SMEs were not considering hiring extra people.

The initial introduction stage will apply mostly to conglomerates, but it is the SMEs that will be hit hardest by sudden changes in labor laws down the road. The government needs to prepare meticulous plans to minimize the side effects on smaller firms from the shorter workweek.

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