Home / News / World /  South Korea's 69-hour work week plan faces backlash from youth; here's why

The South Korean government has been forced to rethink their 69 hour work week plan after receiving backlash from the younger generation. The increase in increasing the work week hours also comes as some countries including Australia and the UK are considering a four-day workweek aimed at giving workers more time away from the office.

The office of President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed relevant agencies to reconsider plans to revise the current cap of 52 hours and “communicate better with the public, especially with Generation Z and millennials," press secretary Kim Eun-hye had said in a statement Tuesday.

The work week cap was raised as authorities believed that it would allow employers greater flexibility to keep their doors open longer to meet demands during periods of peak activity.

It was also designed to help workers bank more hours that could be used for time off at periods convenient for them.

Earlier when the proposal was brought up, the labour ministry had said that labour reform proposal was part of efforts to bring more labour flexibility and improve work-life balance in a country where many women are forced to choose between their career and raising children.

It was to supersede a 2018 law that limited the work week to 52 hours - 40 hours of regular work plus 12 hours of overtime. The Ministry of Employment and Labor had said the law had made the labour market more rigid.

Criticism faced on the 69 hour work week law

Critising the government, the youth in the country saw this as destroying a healthy work-life balance. The labor unions, including those led by outspoken members of the country’s MZ generation, said the proposal would lead to more time on the job and undermine progress the country has made in reducing average working hours that rank among the highest in the developed world.

Critics of the measure, however, have said that the measures will hurt, not help, working mothers and other women. "While men will work long hours and be exempt from care responsibilities and rights, women will have to do all the care work," the Korean Women's Associations United said in a recent statement

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said in a statement, "It will make it legal to work from 9 am to midnight for five days in a row. There is no regard for workers' health and rest." The Serogochim Labor Union with 8,000 members, many of whom are from MZ Generation, said in a statement last week the government’s plan runs counter to global trends and could encourage workers at home to ramp up hours beyond acceptable limits.

South Korea is already considered the most overworked country in Asia with employees logging an average of 1,915 hours in 2021. This is 199 hours more than the average among members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and about 33 percent more than in Germany.

In 2017, prior to the 52 hour work week cap, hundreds of people had died due to overwork, CNN has reported citing government data.

Even after the 52 hours was implemented, cases of “gwarosa" which means 'death by overworking' continued to make the headlines. In the year 2020, labor unions told CNN that 14 delivery workers had died due to overwork to keep the country going during pandemic.

(With inputs from agencies)


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