Under the revised law passed in February, companies with 300 or more employees are required to reduce the maximum work hours to 52 hours per week, from the current 68 hours, starting July 1.
Violators of the law are subject to jail term of up to two years or fines of up to 20 million won ($18,090).
The Korea Employers Federation on Monday asked the government to suspend crackdowns and penalties for the first six months.
The proposal will be discussed at a meeting of economy-related ministers next week, Lee said.
“I believe (the KEF’s proposal) is worth considering as it is a sincere suggestion for the soft landing of the work hours reduction,” Lee said in a meeting of senior officials from the ruling party, the government and presidential office on Tuesday.
“I understand there wasn’t enough time to prepare for the work hours reduction as the law was revised swiftly. … As it is difficult to delay the enforcement itself, I believe it is necessary to have a period of guidance.”
Lee told reporters after the meeting there were no objections from the ruling party or the presidential office.
The prime minister said the government will work on providing more support for those in the low-income bracket, senior citizens and small business owners in regard to the shorter working hours.
As part of efforts to give businesses enough time to adjust to the new system, the Ministry of Employment and Labor is considering giving 90 days of a correction period for companies that violate the revised law.
“Companies may have to hire more people to cope with the 52-hour workweek system, and in some industries, it takes a long time to recruit new employees. It is necessary to give them sufficient time for correction,” a ministry official said.
Under the current rules, a violator of the work hours law is given seven days to rectify its faults, and can extend the correction period by another seven days.
If the violator fails to make the correction within the given time, it is considered a crime the ministry’s labor supervisor has the right to investigate.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com)