[FOUNTAIN]Reducing the Workload

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[FOUNTAIN]Reducing the Workload

Otto von Bismarck, once called the "blood and iron" Chancellor of Germany, left three bits of advice to young people. The first was "work," the second, "work more" and the third, "work until the end of the task." If Bismarck were alive, he would have picked Korea as the world's most promising country. It has been proven that Koreans work harder than anybody.

The U.S.-based market research firm, Roper Starch Worldwide, surveyed 32 countries and 1,000 people in each country to study their actual working hours. The firm concluded that Korea ranked first with the longest working time -- 55.1 hours per week. Excluding weekends, Koreans work an average of 11 hours per day. The average workweek hours of countries studied was 44.6, 10.5 hours fewer than that of Koreans. The International Labor Organization's report confirmed that Koreans work the longest week in the world. According to last year's record, Koreans worked 2,474 hours on average, the highest in the world. Koreans worked 382 more hours than Czechs, who came in second with 2,092 hours.

During the early days of industrialization in Europe, working 16 hours per day was common. People had to work 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. continuously. For the capitalists in charge, time meant money and more working hours meant more profit. In a report prepared in 1832 by the British Parliament on textile factory workers, stories on watches ran rampant. Most laborers could not afford to buy watches, but even if they did, they were not allowed to carry them to the factories. This was obviously a trick to deceive workers about how much time they actually spent.

It is also no exaggeration to say that the history of the labor movement is equivalent to the history of the struggle to reduce labor hours. As the notion spread that physical deterioration of laborers due to lengthy work hours impedes the profitability of capitalists in the long-term, and technological innovations lead to improvements in productivity, the number of working hours eventually started falling.

In the 1850s, the average working hours per week was 84 in Europe, which dropped to 69 in the 1890s and then to 60 in the 1910s. Now the average working time has been reduced to 39 hours. Koreans' current working hours resemble that of the Europeans' in the 1930s.

In a small country with such a large population and with few natural resources, one can say we are living the way we are now because we worked hard in the past, almost like "work worms." Adopting a five-day workweek is controversial and it is time we consider the quality rather than the amount of work.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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