Lawmakers agree to cut working hours

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Lawmakers agree to cut working hours

Lawmakers on Monday agreed to reduce the maximum weekly working hours to 52 from the current 68 during a parliamentary labor committee meeting, but also consented to give affected businesses up to a four-year grace period.

Members of the subcommittee of the parliamentary environment and labor committee came to an agreement during the Monday meeting that the existing maximum weekly working hours, now set at 68, should be reduced to 52.

The committee members also consented that a business with 300 or more employees should be given a two-year grace period, during which it will be immune from criminal prosecution for violating the new measure. A business that employs less than 300 workers will be given a four-year grace period.

“By definition, a grace period means that while the new measure will be taken into effect, a company will not be subject to criminal prosecution during that period,” said Rep. Han Jeoung-ae of the Democratic Party, who partook in the subcommittee meeting.

The current 68 weekly working hours is divided into three categories: 40 hours during weekdays, 12 overtime hours and 16 weekend working hours. With the new measure backed by the subcommittee, it will be discussed and likely passed by the labor committee members on Thursday.

Details as to how far punishment will go for companies that violate the new rule have yet to be determined.

The Monday agreement is an overdue bipartisan deal that originated from a consensus reached in 2013.

But the former Park Geun-hye government and then-ruling Saenuri Party, the predecessor of the Liberty Korea Party, demanded that the measure be rolled out gradually, such as by giving various grace periods to business groups. The government’s position was rebuffed by the opposition.

The Monday deal is therefore seen as the outcome of bipartisan compromise amid rising calls that the country’s excessive working culture has reached its limit and a major change is necessary.

According to a 2015 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Koreans worked the second-longest hours among OECD members in 2014, with 2,124 accumulated working hours per person on average, or 1.2 times more than the average person in an OECD member state.

Despite the long working hours, South Korea’s productivity lagged far behind the OECD’s average.

According to the data, South Koreans’ labor productivity was $31.9 an hour in 2014, $17.1 less than that of the OECD’s average of $49.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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