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Workweek woes

May 05,2018
In a recent Blue House petition, the chief executive of Yonwoo Korea, one of the country’s top manufacturers of cosmetics packaging, warned that jobs will be lost in the plastic molding industry if companies have to comply with a new rule limiting the workweek to 52 hours.

The CEO openly challenged the policy, explaining that an industry engaged in high-pressure injection and pressing must run 120 hours a week, 20 hours on average per day for six days. Under a regular two-shift system, a factory employee works for 60 hours a week.

Yonwoo Korea currently employs 1,550 people and worries that it could lose skilled people once the 52-hour cap goes into effect in July. The reduction in hours means a reduction in pay.

It is not just employers who are worried. Workers at small and medium-sized companies who are paid meager wages may have to find a second job to make up for their reduced income. Chartered bus operators are in a panic because of the blanket rule, and so are petrochemical plants, which must run around the clock.

Manufacturers of construction equipment, which have to meet certain delivery schedules, are demanding an exception. IT service providers that cannot afford to mind the clock when working on a project also complain that the 52-hour rule is too rigid. One major semiconductor company is considering taking its research and development lab overseas to remain competitive.

The government must come up with countermeasures as quickly as possible. It must stretch the flextime period from the current maximum of three months to one year as Japan and France have done. Korea Inc. cannot casually wait until 2022, the deadline that the government has given itself to revise flextime regulations.

Moreover, the government must adjust work hour rules to reflect the specific features of each industry and make more exceptions. Otherwise, a large number of business owners could be branded as potential criminals for overworking their employees. There is not much time left to save Korean businesses from a major production crisis.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 4, Page 30