Small firms to face 52-hour workweek in July without grace period

SEOUL– Small businesses with five to 49 employees will be required to enforce a 52-hour workweek next month as planned by the government, the labor ministry said Wednesday, rejecting industry demands for a grace period.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor said it commissioned a survey of 1,300 small businesses in April and 93 percent of them responded that they were ready to implement the system starting July 1 as scheduled. Around 82 percent said they had already begun.

In the manufacturing sector alone, however, the rate of companies ready to implement the system stood at 82.4 percent, relatively lower compared to other sectors.
“While annual working hours in our country have continued to decrease, we still have the longest hours after Mexico and Chile among the 33 member states of the OECD and work at least 300 more hours than the OECD average,” Kweon Gi-seob, the ministry’s chief of labor policy, said during a press briefing at the government complex in Sejong, referring to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“There are growing concerns about deaths from overwork and increasing public demands regarding the need for a right to healthcare,” he said. “There is no doubt that our society must move in the direction of (reducing) long working hours.”

The 52-hour workweek system was introduced in 2018 and applied first to large businesses with 300 or more employees in July that year before being expanded to firms with 50 to 299 employees in January 2020.

Next month, smaller businesses with five to 49 employees will be required to adopt the system amid their calls for a grace period during which they would be immune from punishment for any violations.

The ministry, which gave grace periods to the first two groups of businesses, said it will not do the same this time but offer a range of measures to support the transition.

Under a revised law that took effect in April, employers are required to ensure an average of up to 52 hours a week over a period of six months instead of three, which means they have greater leeway to ask employees to work more during weeks with heavy workloads.

In the case of firms with five to 29 employees, the management can reach a written agreement with workers to allow up to 60 hours a week until the end of next year.

The ministry has also been providing tailored consulting services through its regional offices and offering financial support to businesses needing to hire more people as a result of the new workweek system.

As of 2019, there were 783,072 businesses with five to 49 employees, of which 94.9 percent had fewer than 30 employees, the ministry said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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