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Some worry that workers may lose out if the South Korean government changes the rules on overtime.

The government of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol wants to let people work up to 69 hours a week, which is more than the current 52 hours. They also want to let people bank overtime hours in exchange for time off. This is part of a plan to help families grow while also making people more productive.

The government says that the plan, which will be made public next month, will give the job market more freedom. Officials say that people would work less as a whole, which would make them more likely to start families and raise the birth rate, which is expected to drop to 0.7 in 2024, the lowest in the world.


It would replace a law from 2018 that said the work week couldn’t be longer than 52 hours (40 hours of regular work and 12 hours of overtime). In a statement, the Ministry of Employment and Labor said that the law had not kept up with the times.

Related: How the South Korean truckers’ strike affects cars, steel, and other goods

“For example, if you work in an ice cream factory, you can work extra hours during certain times of the year, save those hours, and then use them to take a longer vacation,” said the ministry about the change.

Employers and workers would be able to agree on whether to count overtime by the week, with 12 hours allowed, or by the month, with 52 hours allowed, or by the quarter, with 140 hours allowed, or by the half year, with 250 hours allowed, or by the full year, with 440 hours allowed.

For time periods of a month or more, you could work up to 29 hours of overtime a week, for a total of 69 hours of work in a week. Later, overtime could be traded in for time off at a price that hasn’t been set.

Data show that in 2021, only 14% of South Koreans were members of trade unions. This could limit how much workers can negotiate. In a statement, the Korean Women’s Associations United said, “Workers can only be protected from long hours of work by laws like the 52-hour workweek and pressure from labour unions.”


The law needs to be passed by the National Assembly, which is mostly made up of Yoon’s political opponents. Politicians from the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Korea, have said they are against the plan. Rep. Park Yong-jin of the Democratic Party of Korea has called it a “shortcut to population extinction.”

The Ministry of Labor has ignored these complaints, saying that the plan would “only add more choice.”

According to unpublished data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2021, more than 18% of South Koreans worked more than 50 hours a week in the world’s 10th largest economy. This was the fifth highest rate after Turkey, Mexico, Colombia, and Costa Rica.

The move was supported by the country’s biggest business lobbying groups, such as the Korea Enterprise Federation, which called it “necessary.” But some experts aren’t sure that the new plan would make people work less.

Willem Adema, a senior economist in the OECD’s social policy division, said, “The beauty of a 52-hour workweek is that it sends a message to employers, unions, and workers that they really need to do something about the long working hours culture in their country.” “If the whole point of the current laws is to give people more freedom, that’s fine.” But that doesn’t seem to be how people take it.”


The government says that letting workers use overtime hours for vacations will make it possible for people who want to work less, like parents or people who take care of others, to do so.

Lee Min-Ah, a professor of sociology at Chung-Ang University, says that women are more affected by longer work hours, even if they are only temporary.

“When men work more, women will be less likely to work for money, and they will have to take care of more children,” Lee said.

The country already has the world’s lowest birth rate and a population that is getting older quickly. The number of people of working age peaked in 2019 at 38 million, and government data show that number will drop by more than 9 million by 2040.

Related: South Korean truckers on strike are going after chips and slowing down port activity.

Lee Yoon-sun, a 29-year-old office worker, said it would be hard to work hard for a while and then take time off.

“Working long hours when you have a lot to do and then taking a break when you have less to do seems like a pattern that will make it hard to have children and care for them,” said Lee, who does not have children.

Other workers say that the new plan doesn’t take into account many of the social and cultural aspects of work in South Korea.

“If it’s 6 p.m., you don’t just run out the door.” “You carefully put on your clothes and watch what your coworkers are doing so you don’t leave while everyone else is still working,” said Albert Kim, who is 27 and lives in Seoul. He does not have children. “There are a lot of unanswered questions that I wish the proposal had answered.”


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