Seoul, South Korea

Shorter work weeks to spice up worker psychological well being and productiveness could also be catching on in some locations all over the world, however at the least one nation seems to have missed the memo.

The South Korean authorities was this week compelled to rethink a plan that will have raised its cap on working hours to 69 per week, up from the present restrict of 52, after sparking a backlash amongst millennials and era Z employees.

Staff within the east Asian powerhouse financial system already face a number of the longest hours on this planet – rating fourth behind solely Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile in 2021, in keeping with the OECD – and dying by overwork (“gwarosa”) is believed to kill scores of individuals yearly.

But the federal government had backed the plan to extend the cap following strain from enterprise teams in search of a lift in productiveness – till, that’s, it bumped into vociferous opposition from the youthful era and labor unions.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s senior secretary mentioned Wednesday the federal government would take a brand new “path” after listening to public opinion and mentioned it was dedicated to defending the rights and pursuits of millennial, era Z and non-union employees.

Elevating the cap had been seen as a means of addressing the looming labor scarcity the nation faces as a result of its dwindling fertility fee, which is the world’s lowest, and its growing older inhabitants.

However the transfer was broadly panned by critics who argued tightening the screw on employees would solely make issues worse; consultants incessantly cite the nation’s demanding work tradition and rising disillusionment amongst youthful generations as driving elements in its demographic issues.

It was solely as just lately as 2018 that, as a result of fashionable demand, the nation had lowered the restrict from 68 hours per week to the present 52 – a transfer that on the time obtained overwhelming assist within the Nationwide Meeting.

The present legislation limits the work week to 40 hours plus as much as 12 hours of compensated additional time – although in actuality, critics say, many employees discover themselves underneath strain to work longer.

“The proposal doesn’t make any sense… and is so removed from what employees really need,” mentioned Jung Junsik, 25, a college scholar from the capital Seoul who added that even with the federal government’s U-turn, many employees would nonetheless be pressured to work past the authorized most.

“My very own father works excessively each week and there’s no boundary between work and life,” he mentioned. “Sadly, that is fairly widespread within the workforce. Labor inspectors can’t watch each office 24/7. South Korean folks will (stay) weak to lethal additional time work.”

Pedestrians in downtown Seoul.

In accordance with the OECD, South Koreans labored a mean 1,915 hours in 2021, far above the OECD common of 1,716 and the American common of 1,767.

Lengthy hours – alongside excessive ranges of schooling and a rise in girls getting into the workforce – have been as soon as broadly credited as fueling the nation’s outstanding financial progress following the Korean Battle within the Nineteen Fifties, when it went from being a poor financial system to one of many world’s richest.

Nonetheless, critics say the flipside to these lengthy hours might be seen clearly within the scores of “gwarosa” instances – “dying by overwork” – during which exhausted folks pay with their lives via coronary heart assaults, industrial accidents or sleep-deprived driving.

Haein Shim, a spokeswoman for the Seoul-based feminist group Haeil, mentioned the nation’s speedy progress and financial success had come at a value and the proposal to increase working hours mirrored the federal government’s “reluctance to acknowledge the realities of South Korean society.”

She mentioned “isolation and lack of neighborhood stemming from lengthy work hours and intense workdays” was already taking its toll on many employees and “insane work hours will additional exacerbate challenges confronted by Korean girls.”

Along with gwarosa instances, the nation additionally has the best suicide fee amongst developed nations, in keeping with knowledge from the Nationwide Statistical Workplace, she identified.

“It’s essential for the federal government (and corporations) to handle urgent points which might be already affecting lives,” Shim mentioned. “The necessity for assist and a wholesome work life stability can’t be neglected if we’re to make sure the well-being of people with the truth of the best suicide fee within the OECD.”

In 2017, the yr earlier than the federal government lowered the cap on working hours, tons of of individuals died as a result of overwork, in keeping with authorities knowledge. Even when the restrict was reduce to 52 hours, instances of “gwarosa” continued to make the headlines. In 2020, labor unions mentioned 14 supply employees had died as a result of overwork, having sacrificed their psychological well being and well-being to maintain the nation going in the course of the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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