Seoul, South Korea (CNN) Shortening working hours to boost employee mental health and productivity may be trending in some parts of the world, but at least one country seems to have missed the memo.
The South Korean government was forced to reconsider plans this week to raise the maximum working hours from the current 52 hours to 69 hours after provoking a backlash among millennials and Gen Z workers.
Workers in East Asia’s mighty economies are already facing some of the longest working hours in the world, ranking fourth behind Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile by 2021, according to the OECD It kills dozens of people every year.
But the government had backed plans to raise the cap under pressure from business groups for productivity gains, until it met fierce opposition from younger generations and labor unions.
South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol’s chief secretary on Wednesday said the government would take a new “direction” after listening to public opinion, protecting the rights and interests of millennials, Generation Z and non-union workers. He said he was doing his best.
Raising the cap was seen as a way to address the labor shortage facing the country with the world’s lowest declining birth rate and an aging population.
However, the move was widely criticized by critics who argued that tightening the screws on workers would only make things worse. Experts frequently cite the country’s tough work culture and growing disenchantment among its younger generation as drivers of its demographic problem.
Only in 2018 did the country reduce the limit from 68 hours a week to the current 52 hours at the request of the public. At the time, the move received overwhelming support in parliament.
Current law limits workweeks to 40 hours plus up to 12 hours of paid overtime, but in practice many workers are being pressured to work longer, critics say. says.
“The proposal makes no sense and is far from what workers actually want,” said Jung Junsik, 25, a university student in the capital Seoul. Pressured to work above legal limits.
“My own father works too much every week and there are no boundaries between work and life. Koreans remain vulnerable to deadly overtime.”
According to the OECD, South Koreans will work an average of 1,915 hours in 2021, well above the OECD average of 1,716 hours and the US average of 1,767 hours.
Long working hours, along with higher levels of education and increased participation of women in the labor force, were widely believed to have fueled the country’s remarkable economic growth after the Korean War in the 1950s. richest in the world.
But critics say the flipside of these long working hours is evident in the numerous “gwarosa” cases of “karoshi,” in which exhausted people sacrifice their lives through heart attacks, industrial accidents, or sleep-deprived driving. said to be seen. .
Haein Shim, a spokeswoman for the Seoul-based feminist group Haeil, said South Korea’s rapid growth and economic success has paid a price, and the proposal to extend working hours is an attempt by the government to “acknowledge the realities of Korean society.” I don’t want to,” he said.
She said that “isolation and lack of community resulting from long and strenuous work” has already hit many workers, and that “insane working hours will further exacerbate the challenges faced by Korean women.” It will make it worse,” he said.
In addition to Gwarosa’s case, she noted that the country has the highest suicide rate among developed countries, according to data from the National Statistics Office.
“It is very important for governments (and businesses) to address pressing issues that are already affecting people’s lives,” Sim said. “The need for support and a healthy work-life balance cannot be overlooked to ensure the well-being of individuals facing the reality of the highest suicide rates in OECD countries.”
Hundreds of people died from overwork in 2017, a year before the government lowered the cap on working hours, according to government data. Even when the limit was reduced to his 52 hours, the ‘Gwarosa’ incident continued to make headlines. In 2020, labor unions said 14 delivery workers had died from overwork, sacrificing their mental health and well-being to keep the country afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a previous report from CNN’s Jake Kwon and Alexandra Field