The 69-hour work week faces strong opposition in South Korea

Many office workers in South Korea already work 52-hour weeks.© REUTERS

The South Korean government wants to introduce a 69-hour work week, but protests have led the president to reconsider the plan. Trade unions and youth in particular are strongly opposed to the plan.

Nick Wensween

South Korea now has a 52-hour work week. Employees are allowed to work forty hours and 12 hours overtime. The South Korean government thinks a 69-hour work week can solve labor shortages due to an aging population. A country with the lowest birth rates in the world. 0.78 children are born per woman, 2.1 children are needed to maintain the population.

Unions are against the longer working week proposal, which, like the opposition, they feel will not change the birth rate. “It makes it legal to work from 9am to midnight for five consecutive days. “There is no concern for workers’ health or peace,” says the Confederation of Korean Trade Unions. The World Health Organization also states that a work week of more than 55 hours is extremely unhealthy.

Using extra time for children

According to Labor Minister Lee Jung-sik, raising the birth rate actually works because working women can build up extra time that they can then use for family leisure: “We are introducing these measures to help women work less. Work if they are pregnant or have to take care of children.”

However, women’s groups say this does not help working and non-working women. “While men work long hours and are exempt from caregiving duties, women must take on all the caregiving,” says the Korean Women’s Association.

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Millennials and Generation Z, the younger generation, don’t like this plan and protest. As a result, President Yoon Suk-yeol has instructed the government to rethink and “engage with the public, especially Gen Z and millennials.”

Work less

The South Korean government is planning in direct contrast to other major economies, where people are working less and less. In Flanders, for example, the average working week in 2021 was 37.3 hours, compared to 38.7 hours in 1999. In the United Kingdom, several companies tried a four-day workweek last year, showing that productivity remained the same or improved. Employees also felt better after four days of work.

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