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Korea’s labor productivity ranks low in the OECD

May 07,2018
Korea’s labor productivity slightly improved last year, but the country still ranks 17th out of the 22 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries who reported data in gross domestic product per hour worked, according to the organization on Sunday.

Koreans earned $34.30 per hour on average last year, up $1.40 from a year earlier - the biggest increase since 2010 - thanks to reduced working hours due to wide-scale corporate restructuring and an upbeat real estate market. Still, Korea fell short of its status as the world’s 11th-largest economy. Portugal, Hungary, Estonia, Greece and Latvia were behind Korea.

Ireland boasted the best labor productivity at $88, followed by $80.40 in both Norway and Luxemburg and $60 in France.

Korea’s low labor productivity mainly comes from the notorious corporate culture of long working hours. According to data from OECD, per-capita labor hours averaged 2,069 in 2016, 305 hours more than the OECD average of 1,764. That means Koreans worked at least one more hour except for holidays than average workers in other OECD member states. Korea ranks third among OECD countries for longest working hours after Mexico and Costa Rica.

The corporate practice of working late into the night, which gave the country the nickname “night overtime empire,” may change when Korea reduces the maximum workweek to 52 hours from 68 hours for companies and public organizations with 300 or more employees, set to be introduced in July, with others following later.

Different data from the Korea Productivity Center, a special corporation under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, revealed on Sunday that value-added labor productivity index in the manufacturing sector tallied 108.3 last year, up 5.8 percent year-on-year - the largest increase in seven years.

But the number-wise improvement did not bear a relationship with the improved quality of labor, given the result mainly comes from laying off of workers over the course of corporate restructuring - in the flagging shipbuilding sector, in particular - and increased added value.

“An overall increase in added value and expanded labor is the desirable direction for labor productivity improvement,” said Sung Tae-yoon, an economics professor at Yonsei University.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]