Flex hours now available to help in balancing life

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Flex hours now available to help in balancing life

Until recently, Lim Ji-young, an employee at the civilian complaint center in Daejeon’s Seo District Office, didn’t get to bed until after midnight because of household chores and taking care of her sickly, 84-year-old mother-in-law. When she got to work every morning, Lim, 40, felt wiped out.

But in August, Lim started working a four-hour work day, starting at 9 a.m. but going home at 2 p.m. Life is much improved, she said.

“At first, I couldn’t request the slimmed down schedule because I thought it would affect my promotions,” Lim said. “But with my new schedule, I’m able to take care of my children after school. My children have become livelier and I believe that this system is very appropriate for employed mothers.”

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security announced in August that the flexible working hours that have been available to some civil servants since April will be offered to all civil servants outside of Seoul. Civil servants can choose a truncated work schedule, like Lim, with commensurate reduction in pay. Or they can work a normal 40-hour week at staggered hours, work only four days a week or do some work from home or via telecommuting.

The purpose of the system is to allow employees to better balance work and household duties, to fill in for people cutting their hours and to expand the number of jobs governments can offer. The system is also intended to boost Korea’s birthrate by allowing women employees more time at home.

“Currently, Korea’s working hours are 34 percent higher than the OECD average, but labor productivity is just 43 percent of the U.S. and our birthrate is the lowest in the world,” said Chun Seong-tae, ethics division representative in the ministry. “The flexible work system was created to increase labor productivity, create jobs and to respond to the low birthrate.”

In the Seo District Office in Daejeon, six female employees asked to shorten their workweeks in April. All six said they wanted to better balance their work and household duties. Like Lim, they work from 9 a.m. to about 2 to 3 p.m.

The office has hired six contract workers to take over some of their duties.

Gyeonggi Province also started a flexible work system last month for 39 employees.

Daegu Dalseo District Office is offering a staggered schedule in which employees work the normal eight-hour day but can choose whether to come in at 7 a.m., 8 a.m. or 10 a.m.

In Busan, 75 civil servants (51 men, 24 women) from 15 departments participated in a two-month trial of the system in July and August.

“Some civil servants were worried about missing work-related events because they work different hours, but they’re not so worried anymore,” said Yoo Hyo-jong, an official in charge of the Busan labor development department. “Once the two-month trial is over, we believe there will be more requests.”

The Public Administration Ministry surveyed 1,000 employees who participated in the flexible work system in May and June. Eighty-five percent thought the system resulted in greater work satisfaction, efficiency, responsibility and better concentration in the workplace.

However, some citizens complained that government services are getting less efficient as a result of the system.

“At the end of June, I went to the district office to turn in some documents, but the worker in charge had [already] left the office because of the compressed hour work system,” said a man surnamed Kim, 52. “A temporary worker filed my documents but it was processed incorrectly and I had to return the next day.”

In addition, the Korean Government Employees’ Union held a press conference on Aug. 30 to argue that the compressed work-hour system is a government “attempt to fill public offices with non-regular employees and to reduce labor cost.”

The union said it will ask for the system to be scrapped at a meeting with the government in November.

By Kim Jung-soo [enational@joongang.co.kr]
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