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Work culture in Korea must be improved, says Moon

May 30,2018
President Moon Jae-in stressed the need to improve Korea’s working environment during a cabinet meeting, with emphasis on the shortened workweek that will go into effect in July.

“[The new working hours] will become an opportunity for workers who have spent long hours at work to spend more time with their families and to enjoy their evenings, to live a life worthy of a human,” Moon said Tuesday. “For companies, it will be a turning point in which productivity will improve through creativity and innovation.”

He added that a shorter workweek will also create new job opportunities.

Starting this summer, maximum working hours will be reduced from 68 hours per week to 52.

There have been concerns about the effect on companies, particularly small and medium enterprises that can’t afford to add staff to make up for the working hours lost.

While the new workweek will apply to conglomerates with more than 300 employees in July, the regulation will be extended to smaller businesses by July 2021.

“In the process of the kind of change we have never experienced before, there are concerns,” Moon said. “But [I] believe our society can cope with this, as the reduced working hours will be applied gradually.”

The president also said the Employment and Labor Ministry will continue to monitor and communicate with companies to ensure a smooth transition to the new workweek.

He also mentioned a 3.9 trillion won ($3.6 billion) supplementary budget that passed the National Assembly on May 21.

“While it is somewhat late, it is important that the projects tied to the supplementary budget are executed swiftly so that the young people and the people living in areas who face unemployment problems can actually feel the changes,” Moon said.

The president did not mention the new minimum wage regulation that passed the National Assembly on Monday, which is expected to become a major issue as unions strongly oppose it.

The law, which dictates a new calculation to define an employee’s base salary, has been accused of whittling away the gains enjoyed by workers after a steep hike in the minimum wage this year.

Unions and the opposition have demanded that Moon use his power to prevent the law from taking effect next year. They argue that Moon’s government is only adding confusion to the market by first raising the minimum wage and then watering down that benefit.

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, one of the two largest labor union umbrella groups, held a protest on Tuesday in front of the Blue House and announced that all five of its representatives will be pulling out of the committee that will be deciding next year’s minimum wage, which has a deadline of June 28.

“This reform bill significantly reduces the effect of raising the minimum wage,” said Lee Sung-kyung, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions’ general secretary. “It should be immediately withdrawn.”

The Moon government is also under attack for its income-led economic growth policy.

A Statistics Korea’s report released on Thursday showed that the gap between the wealthiest Koreans and those in the bottom 20 percent widened.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]