69-hour workweek  creates resentment among young workforce: South Korea

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The South Korean government’s proposal to increase the workweek to 69 hours has sparked a heated debate across the country. The move aimed to provide employers with greater flexibility to stretch work over longer hours during peak periods while also enabling workers to accrue more hours for time off. 

However, the proposal was met with strong opposition, particularly from the younger generation, who argued that it would undermine progress made in reducing the country’s average working hours and erode work-life balance, particularly for working mothers.

The initial plan was to replace a 2018 law that limited the workweek to 52 hours, including 12 hours of overtime. While some believed it would enhance labour flexibility, others saw it as harming workers’ rights and reducing work-life balance. 

The Ministry of Employment and Labour stated that the law had made the labour market more rigid and that this proposed reform was part of efforts to improve work-life balance.

The labour unions, including those led by outspoken members of the country’s MZ generation, spoke out against the proposal, saying that it would lead to more time on the job and undermine progress made in reducing the country’s average working hours. Critics of the measure also said that instead of being beneficial, it would be detrimental for working mothers and other women. 

In a recent statement the Korean Women’s Associations United said that while men will work long hours and be exempt from care responsibilities and rights, women will have to do all the care work.

The criticism of the proposed increase in the workweek to 69 hours prompted the office of President Yoon Suk Yeol to direct relevant agencies to re-evaluate the plans to modify the existing cap of 52 hours. According to Kim Eun-hye, press secretary it is important to communicate better with the public, especially with Generation Z and millennials.

The government’s decision to reconsider the proposal demonstrates the importance of listening to the voices of the people, particularly the younger generation, who are increasingly advocating for better work-life balance.

While South Korea grapples with the issue of working hours, other countries such as Australia and the UK are exploring the possibility of a four-day workweek. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote work and flexible work arrangements, leading some employers to consider alternative work arrangements that provide employees with greater flexibility and autonomy over their work schedules. As discussions on the future of work continue, it is crucial for governments and employers alike to consider the needs and concerns of all stakeholders, including workers and their families.

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