The Korea Herald


[News Focus] Concerns mount over 52-hour workweek at SMEs

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : Nov. 14, 2019 - 16:04

    • Link copied

Pressure is mounting on the Moon Jae-in administration and the National Assembly to tweak the mandatory 52-hour workweek regulation for companies, especially by small and medium-sized companies which are “not yet ready” to embrace it.

From January next year, companies with less than 300 employees will have to abide by the new workweek regulation. Large firms with more than 300 workers have been following the rule since July 2018. If a company violates it, the employer can face up to two years in prison or a fine of less than 20 million won ($17,089).

With two months to go, the association of SMEs comprising 14 related organizations, including the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business, held a press briefing on Wednesday to demand changes to the relevant legislation, saying they are “not yet ready.” 

(Yonhap) (Yonhap)

In a joint statement, they asked lawmakers to postpone the implementation by a year to minimize the side effects and to adopt a flexible or selective working hour system instead.

The statement comes one week after the nation’s five business associations, including the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Korea International Trade Association, held a joint press conference to ask for similar relief.

In a separate briefing on Wednesday, SMEs and Startups Minister Park Young-sun supported the recommendation.

“Although I voted for the 52-hour week system, I regret it. More in-depth discussions and exceptions should have been made before the legislation went into effect,” she said.

“For creative areas, in particular, research and development or broadcasting, it is not easy to stick to an eight-hour workday. There should have been exceptions in such sectors.”

Her remarks are in line with President Moon’s comment last month during a Cabinet meeting.

“Although companies with more than 300 employees seem to managed successfully, there are great concerns from smaller companies. It is urgent to pass complementary legislation such as the elastic labor system,” Moon said.

The elastic labor system is normally comprised of a flexible working hour system and selective working hours.

Flexible working hour system refers to shortening working hours of one day and prolonging working hours on other days so that the average working hours of a particular period matches the statutory working hours.

A selective working hour system freely sets the commuting time and working time within the total working time, which is set in advance by month.

According to a survey of around 200 companies by the KCCI, 91 percent of the respondents said they are adjusting the system. Among them, 38 percent still said there is no flexibility in work hours and 22 percent of the respondents said the work hours are too tight.

Contrary to the concerns from companies, the work-life balance of employees has increased since the adoption of the 52-hour workweek system. According to a survey done on 780 employees by local online recruiting company Job Korea, nearly half of the respondents their saw reduced overtimes since the adoption of the system. 

By Shin Ji-hye(