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Poised to fail

June 21,2018
With only ten days left before the implementation of the mandatory 52-hour workweek, the government, ruling party and the Blue House accepted a proposal from the Korea Employers Federation (KEF) to set a 6-month grace period ahead of the bold experiment. The government’s decision to accommodate the request from KEF reflects deepening concerns about confusion over implementing the policy.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor deserves criticism for a lack of preparations for the new workweek. Minister Kim Young-joo adhered to the position that she would correct problems if they arise in the process of implementation. Such a lax attitude cannot but spark complaints from the public. It wonders if the government is trying to use our companies as some sort of guinea pigs for an intrepid experiment.

Despite the 6-month time they gained before the government will check for compliance, the government and the corporate sector must fix expected shortcomings of the new regulation. The ministry and the National Assembly must amend uniform ordinances of the Labor Standards Act to fit reality.

The most urgent thing to do is expanding the time frame for flextime. In Korea, it is limited to 2 weeks or 3 months at maximum. But the United States, Japan and France allow companies to run flextime in a longer time frame — up to one year — so that they can concentrate on production when demand sharply increases and slow production when not. Though an appendix to the revised Labor Standards Act mentions the need to find ways to extend the time frame for flextime, involved parties have yet to begin discussions.

As the KEF suggested, the government and the legislature must expand the scope of extendable workhours because certain industries must allow their employees to work for longer periods due to their unique character as in the case of petrochemical and steelmaking. In construction, too, employees cannot work in bad weather conditions. The same applies to the broadcasting and moviemaking industries, because they have to concentrate on working for a certain period of time.

The government must rethink the policy on a fundamental level. Our current workweek system is primarily based on factory workers. You can’t apply a 52-hour workweek to workplaces in the era of a fourth industrial revolution. Success of new industries do not hinge on the absolute amount of workhours, but on the quality of their performances. It is time to thoroughly review the whole process.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 21, Page 30