[INSIGHT]Rest and Idleness Are Very Different

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[INSIGHT]Rest and Idleness Are Very Different

"Let us play while we are young. We can't play once we're too old." We sing this song while we are working but wishing we were playing, but we also sing it out of sheer exuberance while we are at play. Young people also sing the song, but in my case, I sing it more often now as an old man.

There are people who enjoy working more than playing, but loving to play around is our innate nature, whereas loving to work is something we learn as we grow mature. Sometimes I tell my children, "Salary men should take a rest every now and then and work only as much as needed." At other times, I tell them, "Work hard. What you do for your company will all contribute to your reputation and ability." If they complain that the two statements are contradictory, I tell them that they are both true. The problem is that a person cannot make a living just playing around, but we do need to play around at times.

In Korea, the maximum working hours and minimum number of days off are defined in the fourth chapter of the Labor Standards Act, which follows the practice in France and other European countries with an extensive social welfare system. The government has played angel to allow all workers to rest adequately because businesses are by nature exploiters, it claims.

In the United States, working hours and days off are not defined by law. They are determined by collective agreements between management and labor unions or in the individual contracts between employer and employee. Nonetheless, the number of holidays laborers in the United States enjoy are not much less than those in Europe.

In the information age that we now live in, the number of days off can be augmented depending on the industry, job, personal ability, pay, and work intensity. More and more companies are providing flexible working hours and work location.

Holidays as such are losing their meaning. Each laborer is becoming a self-employed person who provides specialized services. Thus, everyone works and plays commensurate with his or her ability.

In the European Union, where the minimum number of holidays is set forth by law, workers are burdened with direct and indirect taxes amounting to 51 percent of their income. On the other hand, average total taxes in the United States in 1998 amounted to 32 percent of their income. The unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in the European Union and 4.3 percent in the United States in October 2000. Workers in the European Union are in effect paying for government interference in their working lives with high unemployment and high taxes.

The Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry is worried that if a five day work week is introduced on top of the existing holidays, the number of holidays in Korea would amount to 175 days, which would be the highest in the world. The United States has 142 holidays and France, currently the highest in the world, has 145 holidays.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has countered that claim, saying that if the number of holidays for daily workers, 119 days, and for temporary workers, 131 days, are included in the calculation, the average number of holidays is only 136 days.

It is not important that the confederation is being criticized for having purposely averaged the number of holidays of daily and temporary workers with that of permanent workers in order to have the number of holidays of permanent workers look small. The problem is not that the number of holidays for daily and temporary workers is small, but that they may have to take more holidays because of lack of work.

I would be interested in finding out what the confederation's statisticians would say if impartial mathematicians add up the number of days that daily and temporary workers spend kicking around a soccer ball in the calculation of the average number of holidays for all workers.

If the minimum number of holidays increased by law, laborers who are not very capable or lucky, or who are not union members and want to work more than the law demands, may find themselves unemployed because of a drop in jobs available.

Providing an equitable number of holidays might be inequitably forcing laborers into unemployment. We must wait until things slowly evolve to allow all laborers an equal number of days off and as many as the market - formal and informal negotiations between management and labor - settles on, instead of having a president try to change things suddenly.

Only those who work want to play. Among those who have too much rest time, there may be some who mull over ways to enjoy their idleness, but most of them are probably worrying about ways to make a living.


The writer is the editor of the monthly magazine "Emerge."

by Kang Wee-seuk

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