Labor law lunacyA revised labor law which cuts employees’ weekly work hours to 52 from 68 goes into effect from July 1 starting with workplaces of 300 or more employees. Shortened work hours can bring about seismic changes to the corporate and labor sectors. But the short-term changes could hurt employers and employees more than help them.
The new regulations are complicated and ambiguous in practice. Interpretations differ as to whether after-work dinners with colleagues and clients — or travel time for business trips, for that matter — should be counted as work hours. Drivers and salesmen, whose work involves a lot of waiting, do not know how to calculate their hours. Violations of the law lead to fines or even jail terms. But the government has not drawn up specific guidelines, leaving employers in a quandary.
Industry insiders have been complaining that the universal 52-hour cap ignores the reality of labor. The revised law makes it too difficult to claim exceptions. For instance, overseas construction, IT and venture fields that do not work against the clock are hit the hardest. Equipment industries that must keep facilities running for 24 hours — and offshore drilling fields that must work intensively for a certain period of time with limited engineers — also can hardly comply with the strict work guidelines. Companies have been calling for more flexibility in calculating hours and determining exceptions, but the government is afraid to anger the unions.
The revised labor act passed the National Assembly in February. The broad application starts in less than a month, and yet the government has not come up with follow-up measures to ease real difficulties for companies. Despite warnings of serious side effects, the government is dragging its feet, citing the need for social consensus. In the meantime, anxiety and frustration are building up among employers and employees. The policy, along with the hikes in the minimum wage, despite their benign designs, may do more harm than good for the economy.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 7, Page 30