Recently, "Work and Life Balance" has emerged as an important factor of life due to the increasing number of modern people who are seeking a relaxed way of living. Work and Life Balance means pursuing a life that keeps a balance between job and leisure. In the same context, the “52-hour work week” was introduced on July 1 this year to shorten the working hours and ensure a healthier life for workers. Although the system has been in-process more than three months, it is true that there is still some confusion about it. The Argus looked into what is happening at this point in time and what needs to be improved.
About the 52-hour work week
The National Assembly passed an Amendment of the Labor Standards Law on Feb. 28, 2018. This law shortened working hours per week. Previously, the Ministry of Employment and Labor interpreted a weekly unit as “five days on weekdays,” and added each eight hours worked on Saturdays and Sundays as holiday work. However, after the law was revised, it was stated as “seven days a week,” which reduced the maximum working hours from 68 hours a week to 52 hours.
As a result, the 52-hour work week was introduced on July 1, 2018, and workplaces and public institutions with more than 300 employees must observe the law.
Meantime, because the Labor Standards Law is a mandatory regulation for the protection of workers, they cannot work for more than 52 hours even though an agreement had been signed between employees and management. If they violate this law, employers will be fined a minimum of 20 million won (US$17,897.09) or be sent to jail for up to two years.
A life with evenings
As workers' closing hour has been brought forward, they are able to live their lives. As a result, many employees began to spend more time with family and for self-development and hobbies.
As an example, employees in their 20s and 30s occupied 25.7 percent of the customers who registered for the lectures in the summer semester of the Culture Center this year at Hyundai Department Stores. This is nearly double compared with employees' proportion (13.1 percent) last year. Considering this trend, Shinsegae Department Store also expanded, by 10 to 15 percent, its lectures associated with Work and Life Balance such as “Wine Sommelier Certificate” and “Basic Drum” in the fall semester of the Culture Center this year.
Employees also watch diverse performances like plays and movies. Even the play “The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” had a promotion that discounted 20 percent of the ticket price to employees. Further, it is shown that employees are doing various activities such as registering at English academies or going to a gym to exercise.
Like this, many workers have become able to have “A life with evenings.” One worker said, “A leisurely evening was formed surely after introducing this system, and I can spend more time on hobbies like watching movies.”
The rise in sales
Since the introduction of the 52-hour work week, there are places where sales are rising thanks to the consumption patterns of employees who get off work earlier.
According to Wemakeprice, an online shopping mall, sales of hobby-related categories such as coloring books and cross stitch increased 44 percent and 24 percent respectively, compared to July last year. According to an online shopping mall G-market, during July this year, sales of mixed martial arts gloves and yoga pilates clothes each grew 609 percent and 101 percent respectively, compared to the same period of the previous year.
In other words, workers are trying out self-development classes and seem to be enjoying hobbies more, which becomes a big factor in the sales' increase of various products. Seong Jae-min, a researcher of Korea Labor Institute said, “In the case of double-income households, the introduction of the 52-hour work week may have an effect of activating eating-out more. Further, it is expected that industries related to hobbies will be vitalized.”
Decline of real wages by the shortened hours of labor
Some workers have sighed deeply after the implementation of the system, because their wages have also been reduced as much as the office hours were diminished. The purpose of the system itself is very good in that the government has been trying to have less over-worked citizens. However, the damage to workers caused by the decrease of income is an undeniable aspect. In a survey “Something changed after implementing the 52-hour work week” conducted by Incruit, an employment portal site, 18.1 percent of the 557 workers surveyed chose “reduced wages”; this was the largest part of the survey.
According to a worker at a wholesale store, “Shrunken salaries made living life more difficult, so we have demanded preservation of income from the company. Though, I am worried about how much the company can meet our demands.”
Smaller businesses are facing an even more serious dilemma. According to the simulation of a report “Support plans for smaller businesses regarding the reduction of working hours” by the Korea Labor Institute, overtime work of manufacturing workers decreased by 12 hours from an average of 21.4 hours to 9.4 hours. Based on this, it was revealed that salaries decreased by 13.1 percent from an average of 2,960,000 won (US$2,659.48) to 2,570,000 won (US$2,309.07) a month.
Damage to corporations that are too busy during certain periods
Companies that have to complete given work within a certain period of time are having difficulty due to the amount of legally reduced working hours. In addition, it is very hard to recruit new people due to the burden of labor costs, so work cannot be completed on time. However, there is still no additional law that considers these corporations.
For example, construction companies often have trouble in meeting a deadline. In particular, corporations that have already started construction projects prior to the introduction of this system are in an even more difficult situation than before. For example, due to the introduction of this system, the completion of a complex in Godeok-dong, Gangdong Ward in Seoul was delayed by two months. Consequently, the inconvenience of the residents also became inevitable.
If the construction companies do not meet a deadline related to work, they have to pay liquidated damages for compensation of deferment to the contracting parties. In the end, this leads to a deterioration of profitability as well as a loss of productivity.
Even if the working hours have been shortened, the amount of work they must do is not diminishing in most companies. A worker who works at conglomerate said, “The workload to be done is fixed, and the allowed working hours are reduced, so it is very hard to finish work within the office hours in the company. This situation made business efficiency weaker than before.”
Workers eventually do overtime labor in their own house or at a cafe after getting off work. In the survey, “Something changed after implementing the 52-hour work week” conducted by Incruit, 12.8 percent of the 557 workers selected “Informal work at night,” putting it in the second place.
Moreover, since smart devices developed, a constant work environment is established through email, phone and message. These tools make doing overtime labor easier. Despite the implementation of the 52-hour work week, many workers have to do “Ghost Work” because of modern technology.
Raise of basic pay through a reset of the wage system
As work time decreases, workers are forced to receive reduced salaries. To solve this problem, it is necessary to look into various forms of the wage system.
Most companies in Korea provide workers with basic pay and additional allowances. With the introduction of the 52-hour work week, additional hours of work were reduced and additional allowances were also decreased. In the end, low-paid workers can barely get by with low wages; extra wages are rarely given.
Therefore, considering this diminishment of additional allowances, it is necessary to reset the wage system in such a way as to reduce the burden on the workers by raising basic pay gradually.
Expansion periods of flexible working hours
Flexible working hours should be extended to particular companies such as air-conditioner manufacturers or construction companies that are pressed with work in a certain period of time.
Flexible working hours system adjusts the weekly average working time of a certain period to 40 hours by shortening working hours of other days instead of extending them during certain periods. According to the current Labor Standards Law, it is possible to expand two weeks in accordance with the rules of employment and three months is possible if an agreement is reached between employees and management.
However, many companies claim that these periods are too infrequent. In reality, the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business announced that the percentage of corporations that have implemented flexible working hours is only six percent, as shown in the “Smaller Business Opinion Research related to the reduction of working time” survey. Meanwhile, 48.2 percent of respondents, the highest amount, selected the option that “Periods should be expanded up to one year” for increasing the utilization rate of the system.
Therefore, it is necessary to adjust and expand working hours flexibly in accordance with the change in the amount of the products in order to improve the working environment and increase productivity. In addition, the government should arrange plans to offer detailed support for corporations that are confused or unclear about the law after the introduction of the system.
Restriction on the number of business directions after work
In order to clarify the intention to reduce the working hours, it seems necessary to prepare measures to cope with situations in which work outside office hours is being performed. It does not mean that employees must not work entirely after leaving work. What this solution means is that a law that proposes flexible standards is needed in order to prevent employees from being forced to work.
In the case of France, an amendment of their Employment Law that forbade bosses from ordering work to employees by using digital devices was announced in 2017. The government let companies with 50 or more employees make an agreement that they should not send emails to each other during off-hours between employees and management. Since the legislation went into effect, French companies are technically blocking access to business after work. Michelin, a tire company, checks the number of times an employee connected to the company on the Internet, except during working hours, through a remote-control system and restricts access if the number exceeds five times a month.
To prevent the business commands of bosses entirely can be an extreme way when conducting work. Thus, if a law has written within it a clear number of times after which an employee will be restricted from accessing the company off-site, this would be helpful in eliminating the problem of “Ghost Work” gradually.
When the five-day work week was introduced for the first time in 2004, many concerns were discovered. Nevertheless, this system is being conducted very well in the present after overcoming such problems. As such, the 52-hour work week has still many problems, but the reporter thinks that the realization of “Work and Life Balance” and efficient economic development can be achieved enough through institutional complementation.
By Jang Yu-jin
Staff Reporter of National Section