“Shortened working hours per week is an opportunity for Korea to resolve its overworked society and take more time for oneself and their family”, said President Moon Jae-in at an aide meeting, on July 2 regarding the new regulation. According to the Foreign Economic Focus released by the Bank of Korea on July 15, 32 percent of the total workforce in Korea work more than 49 hours a week. In other words, nearly one in three people are overworked. In addition, Korean workers work an average of 2024 hours per year, meaning Koreans work 265 hours more than the OECD average, and the figure is third highest among 37 OECD member countries, following Mexico and Costa Rica. According to revisions to the Labor Standards Act, which officially took effect on July 1, 2018, the maximum work hours per week is 52 hours, including holiday work. If an employer signs a contract with an employee to work extended hours beyond the 52-hour-work-week, the employer may have the employee work up to 12 hours more per week. The Labor Standards Act also mandates that the work week for minors will be reduced from the current 40 hours to 35 hours. However, still some experts worry about the decline of workers’ income or the burden of small and medium sized businesses.
Korean society is overworked, and the number of people who die due to being overworked has increased yearly. In 2017, more than 300 people died as a direct effect of being overworked. Koreans hope the revised Act will help reduce this number and reduce illness and death caused by excessive workloads. Excessive work has brought about both direct and secondary health and safety issues to workers. The shortened work week hours will not only improve the quality of life, but also directly affect the safety of people. It is expected that cerebral vascular diseases, which account for a large proportion of occupational diseases, will decrease after reducing the working hours. Also, more office workers will participate in self-development classes or cultural programs that will emerge as workers begin to experience "life with dinner". Shortening the working hours is the first step towards an escape from an overworked society and actualizing the value of “work and life balance” that needs to take root in Korea. There are still considerations that need addressing such as taking work home after work and low wages—half of the workforce earns lower than normal wages—but these could be improved once the Act’s revisions are enforced.
1) Lee Jungwoo, “Last Year, Korea Ranked Third in Working Hours”, Big Data News, July 16, 2018