Seoulites still working long hours, OECD report shows

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Seoulites still working long hours, OECD report shows


Korea remains an economic powerhouse, but its notoriously long working hours have hardly improved.

Korea had the second-longest annual working hours among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) members last year after Mexico, according to the OECD on Monday.

Koreans worked 2,124 hours, while Mexicans worked 2,228. Germans worked the shortest hours at 1,371.

The OECD average added up to 1,770, which was 19 hours shorter than the average for Americans. Countries with shorter working hours than the OECD average included Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom

The average was decided as the total number of hours actually worked per year divided by the average number of people employed, including part-timers and those self-employed.

Korea is well-known for its long working hours. From 2000 through 2007, the country ranked No. 1 in the category according to OECD statistics. With the exception of 2011, when it slid to third behind Mexico and Greece, Korea has stayed at second place until last year, despite the government’s efforts to reduce working hours.

Koreans worked as long as 2,512 hours back in 2000. The figure has since been on the downward spiral until 2011, when it registered 2,090. But the number has been fluctuating since 2012.

Korea’s legally allowed working hours were slashed from 48 hours to 44 hours in 1989. In 2011, the 44 hours were reduced to 40 hours at workplaces with five or more employees. But the huge discrepancy between regulations and reality still lingers.

A research paper published by the private Korea Labor and Employment Relations Association in 2013 analyzed several factors behind Koreans’ chronically long working hours.

According to the report, workers are pressured to work through their vacation days due to Korea’s corporate culture of appreciating those who sacrifice themselves for their company.

In many companies, the less time a worker takes off, the better reputation he or she receives.

A 2011 poll by the Labor Ministry showed Korean workers were given an average of 11.4 days of holiday per year, but they ended up spending only seven days, or 61 percent, of the total.

The paper also pointed out that the shortage of workers at small and midsize companies inevitably forces employees to work long hours.

Choi Young-woo, a professor at the state-run Employment & Labor Training Institute, stressed the urgency of Korean workers boosting their labor productivity, which ranks 25th among OECD members.

“Improving production facilities is crucial for improving productivity, but workers also need to change the way they work, scaling down unnecessary overtime work or meetings,” he said.

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