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(LEAD) Parties show mixed views about new shorter working hours system

All Headlines 14:13 July 02, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS more details in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, July 2 (Yonhap) -- Rival parties on Monday expressed mixed views about a new shorter working hours system that went into effect on July 1.

Companies with 300 or more employees are obliged to reduce the maximum working hours to 52 hours per week from 68 hours. For smooth operations, companies are given a six-month grace period, during which potential violators are exempted from punishment.

The new work-week system, one of President Moon Jae-in's main election pledges, is aimed at cutting what are often called "inhumanely long" working hours in South Korea and improving work-life balance.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) expressed anticipation that the 52 work-week system will help improve the quality of life and boost jobs as well as productivity.

"We need to spur efforts to seek work-life balance by making a soft landing of the 52-hour week system," Choo Mi-ae, the chief of the DP, said at a meeting with senior party officials.

"The government should make efforts for an early settlement of the system by taking into account concerns expressed by workers and employers, including income declines," she said.

The DP also called on conglomerates to boost jobs as the shorter work-week left room for more employment.

"For decades, people have endured 'side effects of (economic) growth' such as income inequality and unemployment while local large companies have enjoyed 'fruits of growth'," the party said.

"Now it is the time for conglomerates to provide quality jobs to South Koreans," it added.

But the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) raised the need to make up for the system's shortcomings.

"People may have to juggle two jobs to make up for the shortfall of income due to the shorter work week," the party said. "The system should be revised to reflect situations on a sectoral basis."

The minor liberal Justice Party took issue with the DP's approach to the flexible work-hour system.

The flexible working hour system calls for adjusting week-day working hours to 40 hours by allowing a worker to take a break to make up for overtime work within a certain period.

Hong Young-pyo, the floor leader of the ruling party, said last week that it can consider extending the three-month limit to six months.

"His remarks go against the purpose of the shorter work-week scheme," Lee Jeong-mi, the chief of the minor party, said. "If there is a change to the flexible work-hour system, employees cannot help working intensively in a certain period and their health would worsen."

How to run the flexible working hour system will likely be intensively debated at the National Assembly due to sharply divided opinions among parties.

The LKP and the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party (BP) argued for an extension of the threshold calculating working hours flexibly. The BP said that parliament should open a session in July to pass a revised bill on extending the limit to one year.

The DP and the government even stood apart on the issue.

"If the limit were extended to six months across the board, the new work system would have no meaning," Labor Minister Kim Young-joo said last week in response to Hong's remarks. "In the second half, we will conduct field surveys on the scheme as companies face different situations sector by sector."

(LEAD) Parties show mixed views about new shorter working hours system - 1

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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