Is there any reason to force you to work 69 hours a week?

Key points
  • The South Korean government wants to increase the legal limit of working hours per week from 52 to 69 hours.
  • Proponents say it will increase workplace flexibility, but not everyone is convinced.
  • This comes as the idea of ​​a four-day work week gains momentum in parts of the world, including Australia.
The idea of ​​shorter workweeks may be gaining traction in some parts of the world, but certainly not in South Korea.
The country’s government is pushing for reforms to allow workers to work up to 69 hours a week, and while it may seem counterintuitive to increase work-life balance, the government is pushing to improve it, though not everyone is convinced.

So what is the plan, and can Australia learn from it?

How will the plan work?

South Korean law allows for a 52-hour workweek – 40 hours of regular work plus 12 hours of overtime.
This law was passed in 2018 under then-President Moon Jae-in to provide people with “intermittent life”.
The proposal would allow employers and employees to agree on whether to account for overtime by the week, with a 12-hour allowance; month, 52 hours allowed; quarter, 140 hours allowed; half a year, from 250 hours; or a full year with 440 hours of overtime permitted.
For accounting periods of a month or more, up to 29 hours of overtime work per week is allowed, for a total of 69 working hours per week.
The plan will allow you to work more hours during busy periods and less during periods of calm. d.

What are the supporters saying?

South Korean labor minister Lee Jong-sik said earlier that new laws are needed because the ones currently in place are not up to the task.
He argued that under the current system, there may be cases where employers falsify overtime records to avoid fines, leaving some employees without overtime pay. .
The proposal also comes amid growing concerns about the declining birth rate in the country.
South Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world at 0.78 in 2022.
Government says it allows workers to save more hours in exchange for free time later will mean that people who want to take a longer break, such as parents or guardians, will be able to do so.
“We will take bold action to help reduce working hours while pregnant or raising children,” Mr. Lee said at a media briefing on Thursday when asked if the labor reform proposal would help South Korea’s birth crisis. .

The move was welcomed by the country’s main business lobbying groups, including the Korean Enterprise Federation, which said it would give companies and workers more flexibility.

What are the critics saying?

The most recent figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that South Koreans worked an average of 1,915 hours in 2021, the fifth highest.
This is 221 hours more than workers in Australia (20th); 124 more than the United States (ranked 12th) and 199 more than the OECD average.
Unpublished OECD data also showed that 18 percent of South Koreans worked more than 50 hours a week. .
South Korea’s opposition and unions say the reforms will do little to improve workers’ rights.

“This will allow legal work from 9 am to midnight for five consecutive days. The health and rest of the workers is irrelevant,” the Korean Trade Union Confederation said in a recent statement.

Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party with a parliamentary majority, set his sights on reforms in a message a colleague read at an event of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions on Friday.
“In eyes government, the workers are not members of the country, but are the object of exploitation,” Mr. Li said, according to .
“I wonder if the government wants people to die working, increasing the workweek to 69 hours.”

Mr. Li also said last week that his party would block the bill.

Can Australia learn anything from this proposal?

Australia’s National Employment Standards set the maximum number of hours worked per week at 38 hours, although some awards and agreements may allow averaging over periods of up to 26 hours.
Unlike South Korea, there are no restrictions on overtime work in Australia. Employers are allowed to invite employees to work , which is usually paid at a higher rate or credited as time off. Employees may refuse to work overtime if they consider it unreasonable.
Last week, that the 38-hour workweek should be revised and called on the federal government to launch a trial four-day workweek based on a “100:80:100” model in which workers keep their entire paycheck and maintain full productivity despite working 80 percent of the week.
According to Dr. Christy Goodwin, digital productivity researcher, speaker, and author, these are the ideas to keep in mind when extending the workday.
“When we ask people to work very long hours, we are working against our neuroscience,” Dr. Goodwin said.

“The part of our brain that does all the hard work, our prefrontal cortex… can only function for about four to six hours each day. This does not mean that you can only work that amount of time every day, but we have at best a six-hour maximum ability to do cognitively complex work.

She supports which she believes “amenable to the idea of ​​how we’re biologically wired to perform optimally” and has also been useful to some businesses.
While the South Korean government says workers will be allowed to use accumulated overtime for longer breaks, there is a risk that this may not work out as planned, according to Anya Johnson, an assistant professor at the University of Sydney Business School.
“A lot of the recovery literature says that regular short breaks are just as important as taking one long break,” said Associate Professor Johnson.
“And there is some research that shows that when you give people the option to take a vacation instead of the overtime you created, people don’t take it because they’re worried about the amount of work they have to do. face when they return, or the pressure they put on other people.”

– With an additional Reuters report.