Don’t push too hardThe gradual enforcement of the 52-hour workweek becomes universal on all workplaces from July 1. The cut in work hours, which was first implemented on big companies employing more than 300 workers and public corporations in July 2018, will now be applied to all workplaces.
Statistics reflect many changes from the cutback in working hours. Working methods and lifestyle have changed greatly. Annual hours were reduced to 1,952 hours in 2020 from 2,014 hours in 2017. According to a survey by Statistics Korea, contentment of salaried workers rose to 32.3 percent in 2019 from 27.7 percent in 2017. Satisfaction with working hours rose from 28 percent to 34.5 percent.
But not everything is good, however. Even large employers had to pay a dear price for the new workweek. For instance, employees had to stop their work as computers are plugged off at 6:00 p.m. The hardship becomes bigger for smaller workplaces. Despite the need for overtime to meet their delivery deadlines, they have to keep to the 52-hour workweek to avoid fines and administrative action. The smaller the company, the bigger the impact on the output and service.
Companies hiring fewer than 50 employees, the last group to fall under the law in July this year, are mostly engaged in subcontracting work. If the 52 hour workweek is implemented on a number of start-ups and venture enterprises in Pangyo, Gyeonggi, and Seoul, they will also be affected.
Large companies with management experience and stable systems were able to manage the transition. But small companies cannot be so agile. A government poll showed that 93 percent of concerned companies could keep to the new work hour rule. In reality, many cite a lack of manpower and capabilities even with the increase in flextime to a maximum six months since April. Because small enterprises cannot find new hires these days, the so-called root industries could face a crisis.
Workers at small companies in particular could be pushed to the edge of the cliff as they could be forced to find part-time jobs to cover up for the losses in income from their reduced hours. Their lives will be worse because of the pressure from gig jobs. The government’s uniform and rigid enforcement of the minimum wage hike and regularization of the irregular workforce has caused some side effects. The government must come up with supplementary measures to protect small companies.