South Korea to revamp overtime hours in new bill

Proposed legislation would allow time off in exchange for longer work hours

South Korea to revamp overtime hours in new bill

The South Korean government will introduce next month a new bill that will allow people to work longer overtime hours in exchange for time off, according to reports.

Reuters reported that the bill seeks to hike South Korea's weekly work hours to 69 hours and bank overtime hours that can be exchanged for a time off. This aims to promote productivity and allow for more flexibility in the labour market.

"If you are working at ice cream factories, for example, you can work overtime seasonally, then save the hours of work and use later to go on a longer holiday," the Ministry of Employment and Labour said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

As reported, employers and employees can make an agreement to count overtime hours:

  • by week, with 12 hours allowed
  • by month, with 52 hours allowed
  • by quarter, with 140 hours allowed
  • by half a year, with 250 hours allowed
  • a full year, with 440 hours of overtime allowed.

For counting periods of a month of longer, up to 29 hours a week of overtime would be allowed, according to the Reuters report, so employees can work up to 69 hours per week.

The government, however, has yet to announce how it can be traded to time off.

The changes to the overtime policy are "necessary," according to business groups cited by Reuters. But the country's opposition has expressed disagreement over the plan.

South Korea's working week

The current weekly working hours in South Korea is up to 52 hours, as stipulated in the South Korean Labour Standards Act in 2018. This includes 40 regular hours and 12 hours of overtime.

However, this weekly working hours has been under criticism by current President Yoon Suk-yeol during his campaign, where he hinted at introducing new policies to allow a more flexible working schedule, The Korea Herald reported.

In December 2022, the country revealed that part of its 2023 economic policy plan is to "revamp labour policies to allow businesses to have employees work extra hours for an economic recovery led by the private sector," Yonhap News Agency reported.

The culture of overtime has been widespread across Asia, with a notorious “996” culture widely criticized in China. A study in 2019 found that employees working up to 24 hours each month because of "desk time" culture, which can eventually become costly for employers.

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