Yoon Jin-ho and Kim Hyo-jin
South Korea’s labor representatives in a tripartite platform with employers and the government agreed to stretch the statutory flextime to six months from the current three before the February deadline for an alternative work hour arrangement.
The Economic, Social and Labor Council, a tripartite panel under the president, said Tuesday it has reached an agreement to extend the flex work period up to six months from the current three to relieve certain industries struggling under the reduced 52-hour workweek.
The change requires legislative stamping before it can be written into the labor law and applied to relevant industries.
In July 2018, Korea cut the maximum working hours from 68 to 52 hours per week in an effort to improve work-life balance and boost worker productivity. But the one-size-fits-all cutback has caused disruptions in many industries that cannot work at a fixed time schedule.
Under current law, flextime is allowed every three months during which employees can work overtime on busy weeks and get off early on idle weeks so that the average work hours still meet legal limits. The business sector demanded this was not enough and asked for a maximum one year, which is common in other developed economies like the United States and Japan.
President Moon Jae-in and the ruling party in November promised revision to the flextime clause and asked the tripartite committee to reach a consensus by February since the grace period of the new workweek on all industries expires in March. The contentious Korean Confederation of Trade Unions had walked out of the tripartite committee and the remaining labor representative had strongly rejected any compromise to changes in the new work hour since the extension of flextime would cut back overtime pay and income.
After the Tuesday announcement, Lee Cheol-soo, head of the labor subcommittee under the council, said employees were ensured an uninterrupted 11-hour break to protect them from work overload, with exceptions to be allowed only upon mutual consent. Measures to prevent possible wage cuts from the flextime policy were also included in the agreement.
Meanwhile, KCTU has vowed to go on a general strike to block the changes.