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Workweek confusion

Oct 18,2017
As a presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in vowed to shorten South Korea’s notoriously rigorous work hours to give workers more time for leisure.

By making companies comply with the legal 52-hour work week, he aspired to create an extra 24,000 jobs. Under the administrative act and labor basic law, which do not count weekend work as overtime, Korean employers are able to make employees work up to 68 hours a week.

As of 2013, Koreans worked 2,057 hours a year, much more than the average of 1,706 hours among the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In September 2015, a tripartite committee of representatives from the government, corporate sector and unions agreed to count weekend work as overtime to cap weekly work hours at 52 hours — 40 of regular work plus 12 hours of overtime.

But that agreement has never been legalized as the revised bill was tied to other labor reform laws that did not pass the previous National Assembly.

Presiding over a senior secretariat meeting on Tuesday, Moon said that if the revised bill does not pass the National Assembly, he would order the government to redefine the administrative act to ensure the legal hours are met.

He may have been trying to pressure the National Assembly. But tweaking administrative definitions will only add to confusion in workplaces.

Ambiguity in legal definitions has set off lawsuits over what constitutes a base salary. Employers faced a slew of lawsuits by unions after the Supreme Court did not agree with the 1988 administrative guideline that left bonuses out of the base salary.

The revised work hours must be absolutely clear legally in order to prevent disputes later on. According to a recent survey by the Economic Reform Research Institute, as many as 53.3 percent of respondents did not think the new government’s policy on jobs has promoted new hiring.

Most negative response came from young job-seekers, which shows the current job policy mostly benefits employed and unionized workers.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 18, Page 34