[OUTLOOK]Yes, We Get Lots of Holidays - on Paper

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[OUTLOOK]Yes, We Get Lots of Holidays - on Paper

The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently released a report comparing the number of holidays granted to workers in foreign countries with workers in Korea. The economic organization said that if a five-day workweek was adopted, Koreans would be off about the same number of days they work.

After the news was reported, one of my senior colleagues, who has worked at this newspaper 25 years, said, "But if I simply got to use all of the holidays I was entitled to but have so far left unused, I probably wouldn't have to work until retirement."

And that may well be true for me. Although I have tried to take all the holidays granted me, I have had to go without many. At JoongAng Ilbo, six days of winter leave (in addition to summer leave) has been given to workers since 1995. This is not the law but came about in the resolution of a dispute between management and the labor union. But in reality I have only ever used three days at most - often, none at all. This year was the first time that I was able to take all my winter leave.

This is not the end of the story. Of the day every month granted to women as menstrual leave - a legal allowance regularly challenged by companies - I have only used one day in the 23 years and 11 months I have worked at this company. This means I have thus far lost 269 days off.

Scholars of journalism around the world have criticized Korea for failing to publish newspapers on Sundays, arguing that it is the only country at this stage of development without them.

However, because newspapers are published almost every day of the year except Sundays, I enjoy none of Korea's (fairly frequent) statutory holidays except Jan. 1 and one or two days at Lunar New Year and Chuseok.

But for workers in general, if a five-day workweek was adopted, it has been calculated that men would have 153 to 163 days off a year while women would have 165 to 175 days a year (with additional days for menstrual leave).

So, if we accept these figures, even if companies discontinued the day's monthly leave for both sexes and women's additional day menstrual leave in order to adopt a five-day workweek system, Koreans would be entitled to 141 to 151 days. That's more than France (145 days) and Germany (140 days), which are famous for having the most holidays.

How fantastic! And yet, I am not the only one to feel somewhat shorn of my rights.

"Monthly leave is 12 days and annual leave is 10 to 20 days? I use only a few days a year, and so do my coworkers. Who can take all their holiday entitlement off?" one office worker said.

"Public servants are granted 20 days of annual leave after five years of work. But summer holiday is only five to six days and no one gets to use quarterly leave. I estimate less than 1 percent of public servants use all their 20 days of leave," said a public servant. After listening to workers in various fields, it seems Sundays, statutory holidays and short summer vacation leave are the only days they can definitely take off work.

So who actually lives in this "fantastic" Korea? Anyone? Considering that part-time workers, who reportedly make up more than half of all workers, workers not granted annual leave because they have worked less a year (and have not earned the right yet) and those working in small and mid-size firms are unable to take most statutory holidays off, the actual number of days off for Korean workers, including weekends, is 78.8 days, according to another report.

The Korea Employers' Association and feminists once clashed over the large disparity in each of their calculations of the cost of adopting the revised Maternity Protection Act, which granted an additional 30 days' maternity leave.

When presenting basic data to the public so they can make an evaluation, the data should reflect reality accurately. But we have a tendency to try to present information to our own advantage. This disallows society the chance to make a fair judgment. What is worse is that such practices not only hinder the development of our society but actually debase it, by increasing our distrust of each other.

Does the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry know that it has dumbfounded everyone and created discord everywhere by announcing a number so far from reality, it could only have been dreamed?


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Hong Eun-hee

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