The Korea Herald


4 out of 10 S. Koreans want shorter work week: survey

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : June 10, 2024 - 12:09

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A recent showed that many South Korean workers think the optimal cap for weekly work hours should be 48 hours, four hours less than the legally allowed 52 and far lower than the 69 previously pursued by the government.

Local civic group Workplace Gapjil 119 on Sunday revealed the results of the survey it conducted in February on 1,000 workers across the country, asking opinions on the legal limit for working hours per week. The leading answer was 48 hours, picked by 42.5 percent of the respondents, followed by 35.2 percent who said it was the current 52 hours.

Only 22.3 percent said the weekly working hours should be higher than the 52.

The survey also showed that 36.3 percent of the respondents are working overtime. Of those, 39.1 percent said they work overtime for an average of six hours or less in a week, while 35.5 percent said their overtime work per week was between six and 12 hours.

About 25.4 percent said they work more than 12 hours overtime in a week.

South Korean law currently allows 40 hours a week in regular working hours and a maximum of 12 hours of overtime.

As such, over a quarter of respondents were working illegally long hours.

Over half, 53.6 percent, said workers should not be required to work for more than two hours above the regular working hours in a single day. Only 6.2 percent said overtime of eight or more hours should be permitted.

The group said many of the cases they have come across show South Korean workers are being overworked. In one case cited by the civic group, a person was forced to work over 60 hours a week for two months straight.

"I was working late and went home at around 9:30 p.m. Then, my supervisor told me not to go home unless I've completed my task," a local worker was quoted as saying by the group.

A group of businesses challenged the 52-hour limit in the Constitutional Court. But the court rejected the petition in a March ruling, saying it was necessary to resolve the practice of forcing long working hours on employees.

The government in January made the administrative decision to calculate overtime hours for the 52-hour limit in accordance with how much a person worked in a week, as opposed to the previous standard that did so on a day-to-day basis.

For example, it would have been illegal to work 13 hours a week for four days, it would have been illegal before the change. This is because he or she worked five hours overtime each day, amounting to 20 hours’ overtime in a week, which in turn is above the legal limit of 12 hours a week.

However, the new yardstick for overtime work only considers the fact that the person worked 52 hours in a week, which is within the legal limit.

But for the purposes of pay, overtime is still calculated on a daily basis, so the worker will still be paid for 20 hours since the maximum standard daily work hours is eight. Overtime pay is 1.5 times more than the regular payment for the same amount of time.