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Samsung adopts new system to track work hours

Others also seek ways to adapt to proposed law on weekly limits
Feb 19,2018

Samsung Electronics has adopted a new system by which access badges now double as digital time cards, allowing employees to track their hours worked with a single click of the mouse.

The new system is part of the company’s efforts to prepare for the new shortened working hours, which could take effect as early as July.

The Moon Jae-in administration’s revised labor law proposes a reduction of the maximum weekly working hours from 68 to 52, or 40 hours a week with up to 12 additional hours on the condition that employees consent, beyond which overtime must be paid.

Currently, the bill is awaiting approval by the National Assembly. But if it passes, then starting in July, companies with 300 or more employees will have to implement the new framework while companies with 50 to 299 employees will have until 2020 to do so. Companies with five to 49 employees will have until 2021.

The bill is intended to encourage businesses to hire more workers while giving workers more leisure time, in the hopes that this will translate to more spending and subsequently give the economy a needed boost.

Businesses are already coming up with various responses to the proposed law, including breaking from the traditional nine-to-five system.

SK Telecom, Korea’s leading mobile service provider, is planning to introduce flexible working hours in July, which means workers can make their own hours so long as they work 80 hours every two weeks.

SK Hynix, SK Group’s chip manufacturing affiliate, announced that starting next month it will introduce a similar system, requiring that employees schedule at least 52 hours per week. The company has even adjusted the schedule of its shuttle bus to accommodate more flexible commute times.

But SK Group is not the first. Some leading ICT companies have already adopted flexible working hours.

In 2015, Naver implemented a system by which employees could arrive every 30 minutes between the hours of 7 and 10 a.m. Kakao has a similar system, but with an arrival window between 9 and 10 in the morning.

Netmarble, which is notorious for the intense workload its employees must endure, plans to allow employees to come and go as they please, provided they work a minimum of five hours a day.

In order to make up for the working hours lost, companies are taking steps to optimize productivity. Samsung’s new system, for example, excludes the time employees spend on non-work related activities such as going out for coffee, taking a smoking break or working out at the company gym, all of which will be recorded using their access badges.

But some question whether the new system, when enforced strictly, will end up undermining productivity.

“In the case of R&D departments, the intensity of work before and after the release of the product is vastly different,” said Cho Joon-mo, professor of economics at Sungkyunkwan University. “If you disregard the reality of the situation, then a 52-hour work week can be like a shackle for business management.”

Others voice concern that small and medium-sized enterprises will likely be more affected by the new system than their larger counterparts, which could harm market competitiveness.

“On average, Korean workers work 2,133 hours a year, which is the second-highest rate among OECD countries after Mexico,” said Kim Sung-joong, a labor attorney at Labor Law Firm U&. “There will only be improvements in employee work-life balance if companies are forward-looking and labor unions are willing to compromise by taking workplace realities into account.”

BY PARK TAE-HEE [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]