South Korea imposes 52-hour work week
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South Korea imposes 52-hour work week

WORKERS in South Korea will now work a shorter week, under a 52-hour limit takes effect this month.

Businesses with more than 300 employees and the public service will now be expected to cap their employees’ working hours at 40 hours of regular work and 12 hours’ overtime, according to the country’s state news agency Yonhap.

Employers face fines of up to 20 million won (US$17,880) or two years imprisonment for non-compliance. The new law fulfils a campaign promise of President Moon Jae-in and is hoped to improve work-life balance for Korean workers.

“We will thoroughly monitor whether companies implement the lower working hours in the right manner based on the recent survey results,” a Korean labour official said, referring to a Labour Ministry survey from last month which said almost 60 percent were already enforcing the limit.

Businesses which have between 50 and 300 workers will be expected to adhere to the law starting Jan 1, 2020, reported the Korea Times. Some 200 labour inspectors have been hired by the government to enforce the legislation.

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According to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data, the average Korean worked 2024 hours in 2017, compared to 1356 in Germany, 1676 hours in Australia and 1710 hours in Japan.

Long working hours have also been linked to mental health problems and suicide.  Young people and adults in South Korea also suffer the one of the highest rates of suicide in the OECD – a trend that has only increased in recent decades as other rich countries have seen suicides decline.

Earlier this year the country’s gender and equality minister called current work hours “inhumanely long”.

“I’m delighted by the news,” 29-year-old Shin Na-eun told the Korea Herald. “There were many reasons why I quit my job, which was seen as stable by many. One of the reasons was definitely the heavy workload.”

“I’m not naive enough to believe that this law will change everything overnight, but I feel like we are certainly going in the right direction,” she said.