[EDITORIALS]Easing into the workweekThe five-day workweek bill long disputed by labor and management was approved by the National Assembly yesterday. The system will spread quickly to workplaces starting next July, when it is implemented nationwide. The new workweek is expected to bring sweeping changes in people’s lifestyles. But the legislation itself does not solve the related problems. In order to minimize side effects, government, labor and management must focus on detailed preparations.
The gist of this revision of the Labor Standards Act is reducing weekly working hours from 44 to 40. It is a declaration rather than a guideline. Its introduction must be decided through collective bargaining over wages at individual workplaces. While the legislation was pending, various types of shorter workweek systems were introduced by financial institutions, Kia Motor and Hyundai Motor. The recommendation of the Korea Employers Federation that companies’ collective agreements and employment regulations be readjusted in line with the new law should be accommodated. Its warning, that hasty implementation will endanger the survival of many small- and medium businesses that rely on labor to a high degree and have no investment capability, should be heeded.
The government must be prepared to cope with the side effects of the shorter workweek on society. Implementation in public offices and schools should not precede implementation in the private sector, and should be done step by step so that people won’t be inconvenienced. Public holidays designated under the six-day workweek must be adjusted.
It is good if a shorter workweek improves quality of life, but it is of no use if businesses cannot survive competition. New production techniques and advanced management skills that can enhance productivity, offsetting the wage increase resulting from shorter working hours, should be introduced. Individual workers must join in this effort. Otherwise, our relatively lax labor practices, compared with those of advanced countries, will be a problem. Without enhanced productivity, the new workweek will only add another burden to the Korean economy.