Listen to this article South Korea Scraps 69-Hour Work Week After Youth Backlash
South Korea’s government had announced its plans to increase the maximum weekly working hours to 69, intending to address complaints from business groups who had argued that the current cap of 52 hours was making it difficult to meet deadlines. However, younger generations – the millennials and Generation Z – opposed the move, stating that it would impact their work-life balance and put their health at risk. The backlash prompted President Yoon Suk-yeol to instruct government agencies to reassess the measure and engage in better communication with the public.
Opposition to Proposed Increase in Hour Work Week in South Korea
Younger generations in South Korea opposed the planned increase in weekly working hours, stating that it would be detrimental to their well-being. Critics lambasted the move for not aligning with other major economies, like the UK, where multiple companies experimented with a four-day workweek in 2022. The trial demonstrated similar or better productivity, and improved employee well-being. South Koreans worked an average of 1,915 hours in 2021, which is 199 hours more than the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development average, and 566 hours more than workers in Germany. Union leaders had also opposed the proposed rise, warning that it would force employees to work longer hours in a country already known for its demanding workplace culture.
Reconsideration of Weekly Working Hours Measure in South Korea
Following the backlash from younger generations and other groups, President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered government agencies to reassess the measure and communicate better with the public, especially with the millennials and Generation Z. Yoon, a conservative who is seen as pro-business, had initially supported the increase to give employers more flexibility. However, the proposed rise conflicted with his core labor market policy of protecting the rights and interests of underprivileged workers, such as the MZ generation, workers not in a union, and those working in small and medium-sized businesses.
Political Ramifications of Weekly Work Hour Proposal
The proposed plan is expected to have political implications because Yoon, who was elected president in 2022 with the support of disaffected young men, hopes that his People Power party will win the youth vote in the upcoming national assembly elections next year. The liberal Democratic party introduced legislation in 2018 that limits the working week to 52 hours, 40 of which are for regular work and 12 for overtime. The original plan, announced earlier this month, would have overturned this legislation. However, the party has announced that it will use its majority in the national assembly to block the bill.
Impact of Increased Working Hours on Women and Families in South Korea
Labor Minister Lee Jung-sik argued that raising the weekly cap to 69 hours would enable working women to accrue more overtime hours in exchange for time off later, which they could use for family and caregiving commitments. However, women’s groups argued that the measure would harm working mothers and other women, stating that “while men will work long hours and be exempt from care responsibilities and rights, women will have to do all the care work.” Unions and opposition politicians opposed the measure, noting that it would do nothing to address the country’s record low birth rate.
In conclusion, younger generations and various groups have opposed the South Korean government’s plan to increase the maximum weekly working hours to 69. The proposal intended to address complaints from business groups, but it conflicted with President Yoon’s core labor market policy. Furthermore, critics have pointed out that the proposed rise is not in line with other major economies, including Britain, where several companies have trialed a four-day work week.