Exceptions to shorter workweek may be given

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Exceptions to shorter workweek may be given

While the new 52-hour workweek comes into effect for companies with more than 300 employees next week, the country’s top economic policy maker said the government may allow overtime in certain sectors such as the information communication and technology (ICT) industry.

“In cases where [overtime work] is inevitable, we will come up with specific plans where companies can get government permission, especially in the ICT sectors when there’s an emergency situation such as a server shutting down or hacking,” said Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon during an economic ministers meeting on Tuesday.

He said the government will be closely monitoring the implementation of the new, shorter working hours and come up with new plans including expanding the implementation of flexible working hours.

Extended working hours will likely have to be approved by the Labor Minister with a maximum of 12 hours a week.

Under the current laws, working hours can be extended in limited cases in which the public faces danger or personal property is damaged in disasters that naturally occur or are man-made, including environmental pollution.

The business community has been asking for exceptions to the 52-hour workweek for certain industries, along with a six month grace period on any crackdown on violators.

On June 20 in a meeting between the government and ruling Democratic Party, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said the government agreed to not enforce any crackdown on the shorter workweek for six months.

“Our focus will be launching the [52-hour workweek] system rather than on cracking down,” Finance Minister Kim said. “Starting July we will extend the period of adjustment for all business where the shorter working hours will be applied for a maximum six months and will take into account the efforts that the businesses owners have made.”

Labor Minister Kim Young-joo said that the implementation of the new workweek will face no problem as 59 percent of the 3,627 companies with more than 300 employees have already applied a 52-hour workweek.

The Moon Jae-in government has reduced working hours from a maximum of 68 hours a week to 52 hours in order to provide more time for working Koreans to spend with families and to contribute to the economy through more spending. The second goal is to create more job opportunities as companies will have to make additional hires to meet their production goals.

Businesses that violate the regulation face a fine of 20 million won ($17,912) and management can be jailed for up to two years.

Finance Minister Kim on Tuesday also urged the process of deciding next year’s minimum wage to proceed as scheduled.

“We ask the labor unions to return to the committee deciding the minimum wage so that a smooth review [of next year’s minimum wage] could be made,” Kim said.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]
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