More family time for workers in South Korea

SEOUL/TOKYO • Starting in May, South Korean civil servants will get to knock off at 4pm on the last Friday of each month - in return for working 30 minutes more from Monday to Thursday.

This is part of the government's plan to encourage workers to spend more time with family, Joong Ang Daily reported yesterday. State-run companies were asked to adopt the same measure as soon as possible, it said, citing the Ministry of Employment and Labour.

The ministry said it would provide incentives to encourage private companies to offer similar schemes. "Many workers at large companies have been able to work more flexible hours, while not many at small and mid-sized companies have been able to enjoy the same benefits," Mr Koh Young Sun, vice-minister at the labour ministry, was quoted as saying.

"We will expand the idea of people leaving early on the last Friday of the month to the entire workforce in the country by having public institutions adopt it first."

South Koreans clock 2,071 hours of work a year on average - the second-highest among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's 35 member nations. Government data showed 43 per cent of South Korean workers worked overtime more than thrice a week, reported Joong Ang Daily.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government plans to remove exemptions from overtime rules for the construction and shipping industries after a five-year grace period, as part of efforts to reform working styles, sources said, according to the Washington Post. The field of research and development would remain exempt.

The government plans to incorporate these ideas into the Work Style Reform Action Plan that it aims to draw up at the end of the month and submit related legislation to Parliament soon, the sources told the Washington Post.

The Council for the Realisation of Work Style Reform, chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, approved a draft plan on overtime regulations on March 17. It stipulates a limit for overtime at "less than 100 hours per month" during busy periods. There are no limits on overtime now.

But lawyers and activists said the restriction does not go far enough, because the government's standard criterion for death by overwork is 80 hours a month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2017, with the headline 'More family time for workers in South Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe