Learning from King SejongKIM HYUN-YE
The author is a national team reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.
On Oct. 18, 1422, in the fourth year of his reign, King Sejong the Great found a letter of request from a court office in charge of national ceremonies, protocols and education. The office, called Yejo, which is equivalent to the ministry of culture and education today, was located in Gwanghwamun in downtown Seoul. The request was an appeal for the king to grant days off on every 8th and 23rd day of the month for pupils at higher schools of Seonggyungwan — an elite academy — to allow them to visit their parents and wash their clothes. The king immediately approved the request.
These various types of leave and breaks were systematized during the reign of King Sejong, according to the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. He was the first to introduce maternity leave for state slaves. In 1430, the king ordered 100s day of leave be given to state slaves that had given birth, and a one-month exemption from labor ahead of their due date. He also ordered 30 days of leave be given to slaves that were new fathers to take care of their wives. The king also institutionalized a 10-day honeymoon furlough for frontline soldiers and 100-day leave for them to return to their hometowns in case of the death of their parents or grandparents.
Some abused the system. King Sejong’s nephew applied for leave in 1447 to visit Jinju. When he did not return to office after his leave ended, the royal inspection office reported it to the king. He instantly sacked his nephew from his job.
Today, we may see a new break to get a vaccine jab. It is one of many new ideas born from the Covid-19 pandemic. The government is considering offering a day-off related to vaccination as an increasing number of people have been complaining of a fever and aches after inoculation. It is deliberating whether to make it paid or unpaid leave. But it must not neglect irregular, freelance or contract workers who are not covered by the Labor Act. They must not feel further isolated by Covid-19.