Presidential language, please

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Presidential language, please

A day after the Ministry of Employment and Labor announced that it would revise the uniform 52-hour workweek as a part of labor reform, President Yoon Suk-yeol said that the announcement was not yet the “official position of the government.” After the president’s denial, the presidential offices had to spend two days explaining what Yoon wanted to say. The episode sounds the alarm for the new conservative administration.

On June 23, Labor Minister Lee Jeong-shik outlined labor reform toward the direction of allowing flexibility in the rigid 52-hour workweek by counting work hours on a monthly, not weekly, basis. The minister also said the administration will change the current pay system to reflect performance and responsibilities rather than seniority. The outline has been in line with Yoon’s campaign promises.

But after reporters asked President Yoon what he really meant by saying the labor minister’s announcement was not final, he said it was just recommendations from outside experts and required a further overview by the government. Yoon’s denial immediately stoked controversy. The Democratic Party (DP) asked what a government position can be if an announcement by a minister is denied by a president.

The presidential office explained that what Yoon had meant to say was that the outline has yet to be finalized. Since flexibility in work hours and labor reform are Yoon’s clear direction, further details will be discussed with outside experts, said an official at the presidential office.

Meanwhile, the Labor Ministry later said what had been announced earlier was briefed to the presidential office. The minister came up with the explanation that the basic direction and the final outline would be announced after a further examination of the volatile issue. The presidential office and the government ended up trying to minimize the controversy by claiming that there was a misunderstanding.

Providing flexibility in the draconian 52-hour workweek is crucial in labor reform. The DP and the labor sector are strongly protesting the conservative government’s attempt to destabilize the 52-hour workweek that has been barely put into action. The government must approach the amendment of the workhours very delicately and prudently.

President Yoon must watch his straight-talking style. He should continue with communication, but in a precise manner. As a presidential candidate, Yoon used to complain that his intentions were not delivered correctly. But each president’s word has a weight. The words coming from a head of state must be accurate and final. Yoon’s comment on the 52-hour workweek system was unnecessary. We hope he uses more prudent and refined language.
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