Working for the weekend by 2020?

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Working for the weekend by 2020?

Koreans work more hours than citizens of any other affluent nation, but the government’s planning to give them a little more time off.

The Economic and Social Development Commission, a top labor policy body, said yesterday it has a plan to reduce the average annual labor time in Korea by up to 10 percent by 2020.

An agreement by the members of the commission, who come from management, unions and the government, is legally binding. The national government has to follow through with legislation. National Assembly approval could take several years, experts say, but the program is likely to become government policy.

The commission agreed to lower the annual average work hours per employee to between 1,800 and 1,900 hours within 10 years. As of 2008, Korea’s average was 2,256 hours, the longest among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. Greece was the only other OECD country recording more than 2,000 annual working hours per employee, with an average Greek working for 2,120 hours a year in 2008.

The goal is still above the OECD average - 1,764 hours - but it is close to Japan’s average, which in 2008 was slightly over 1,800 hours.

The commission said it will form a national organization of experts from the government and private sector to draft detailed measures for cutting work time.

The reform of corporate holiday systems will be a key measure, the commission said.

The commission said that the current system, which allows employers to trade unused holidays for financial compensation, encourages employers to overwork employees, and should be replaced by a system that obliges employees to use holidays. It said the current system also encourages employees to skip holidays to get more money.

“We hope the agreement will be a turning point for changing an outdated practice and mentality in Korea about overtime work,” said an official of the commission.

The commission said it will also direct companies to fill any need for additional work by hiring part-timers and to generate jobs.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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