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Youth protests force South Korea to scrap 69-hour workweek

South Korea’s government has been forced to reconsider a planned increase in working hours following a backlash from young people who denounced the measure as a threat to their health, destroying work and family reconciliation.

The government wanted to increase the maximum working week to 69 hours after business groups complained that the current limit of 52 hours a week made it difficult to meet deadlines. But protests from millennials and Gen Zers prompted President Yoon Suk-yeol to call on public authorities to reconsider the move and “better communicate with citizens, especially Gen Z and millennials,” according to his press officer, Kim Yun-hye.

“The core of labor politics.” [de Yoon] is to protect the rights and interests of the most vulnerable workers, such as the MZ generation [generación milenial y Z]Union workers and employees in small and medium enterprises,” Kim told the Korea Herald newspaper.

Yoon, a conservative who is considered pro-business, has supported increasing the maximum workweek to give employers more flexibility. But in a country already known for its tough work culture, union leaders warned the move would force people to work even harder.

The plan has also been criticized for being outmoded compared to how other major economies such as Britain operate. Dozens of companies in the UK trialled the four-day working week last year, which campaigners claim has resulted in similar or better levels of productivity with better staff wellbeing.

For the entire year 2021, South Koreans worked an average of 1,915 hours. This is 199 hours more than the average of the member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to the organization’s latest report. Also 566 hours more than working hours per person in Germany.

Yun was elected president in 2022 with the support of many disaffected young people and is confident that his formation, the People’s Power Party, will be able to attract youth votes in the 2024 National Assembly elections.

The plan to extend working hours, announced in early March, would repeal a law introduced by the Democratic Progressive Party of Korea in 2018 that limited the work week to 52 hours (40 hours of regular hours and a maximum of 12 overtime hours). The Democratic Party has said it will use its majority in the National Assembly to block the bill.

Unions and opposition politicians argue that increasing working hours in Asia’s fourth-largest economy will not address the country’s low birth rate, which is among the lowest. “These will become legal days that shift from 9am to midnight for five consecutive days. Workers’ health and the rest are not taken into account,” the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions posted.

Labor Minister Lee Jung-sik argued that raising the weekly maximum to 69 hours would allow working women to earn more overtime, which they could later trade for more time to fulfill family obligations and care for others. “We will propose strong measures to help reduce working hours during pregnancy or child-rearing,” Lee said last week when asked if the increased hours could help ease the fertility crisis.

However, according to women’s associations, this measure harms working mothers and other women. “While men will work longer hours and be relieved of caregiving responsibilities, women will have to do all the work,” the Korea Women’s Associations said in a statement.

Source: El Diario





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