[EDITORIALS]Go slow on 40-hour weekThe Ministry of Labor has drawn up measures for a gradual introduction of the five-day workweek beginning in July 2003. The ministry said that the 40-hour workweek will begin at workplaces with more than 1,000 employees before being extended to companies with more than 300 staff in July 2004 and to businesses with more than 50 workers in July 2005. Finally, the shorter workweek will be enforced at work places with more than 20 workers in July 2006. A presidential decree will determine when the five-day workweek will be adopted at businesses with less than 20 employees. Under the timetable, most local businesses will have to introduce the five-day workweek within four years from now.
The ministry's plan poses some problems, including the timing. The Labor Ministry hopes that the five-day workweek will be fully adopted by 2006, which is four years earlier than what the government, management and labor nearly agreed to during the Korean Tripartite Com-mission talks, which collapsed last month. The early schedule seems to be a reflection of major union groups' demands that the shorter workweek be enforced fully and immediately. But it is evident that the local business community, which holds the key to the introduction of the five-day workweek, will not accept the timetable. Moreover, the government policy is unconvincing because the schedule was presented first, but no essential preconditions like adjustments of pay and the number of holidays have been set.
Seoul should not have forced the policy down businesses' throats. In particular, if small and medium businesses are forced to adopt the five-day workweek within three to four years, even though the current 44-hour workweek is difficult for them, they will suffer financially and labor relations will be strained. Banks have adopted a five-day workweek, but that does not mean all other businesses must be forced to follow suit. Under most circumstances, it would be desirable for them to decide the timing through labor-management negotiations. We cannot emphasize too much that the government must not hurry to begin the five-day workweek.