This country wanted a 69-hour work week. Millennials and Gen Z had other ideas – KESQ

By Heather Chen, Yoonjung Seo and Andrew Raine, CNN

Shorter work weeks to boost employee mental health and productivity may be gaining traction in some parts of the world, but at least one country appears to have misunderstood the memo.

The South Korean government was forced this week to rethink a plan that would have increased its working hour limit to 69 per week, from the current limit of 52, after sparking backlash among Gen Z workers and the millennials.

Workers in the mighty East Asian economy already face some of the longest hours in the world, ranking fourth behind only Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile in 2021, according to the OECD, and death from overwork is thought to be (“gwarosa”) kills dozens of people each year.

However, the government had backed the plan to raise the cap after pressure from business groups seeking increased productivity, until it ran into vociferous opposition from the younger generation and unions.

president of south korea Yoon Suk Yeol The chief secretary said on Wednesday that the government would take a new “direction” after listening to public opinion and said he was committed to protecting the rights and interests of millennial, Gen Z and non-union workers.

The cap increase had been seen as a way to address the looming labor shortages facing the country due to its declining fertility rate, which is the lowest in the worldforks population aging.

But the move was widely criticized by critics who argued that tightening the screw on workers would only make things worse; Experts frequently cite the country’s demanding work culture and growing disillusionment among the younger generations as drivers of its demographic problems.

It was only in 2018, due to popular demand, that the country reduced the limit of 68 hours a week to the current 52, a measure that at that time received overwhelming support in the National Assembly.

Current law limits the workweek to 40 hours plus up to 12 hours of compensable overtime, though in reality, critics say, many workers are under pressure to work longer.

“The proposal doesn’t make any sense… and it’s so far from what the workers really want,” said Jung Junsik, a 25-year-old university student from the capital Seoul, adding that even with the government’s U-turn, many workers They will continue to be pressured. work beyond the legal maximum.

“My own father is overworked every week and there is no boundary between work and life,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is quite common in the workforce. Labor inspectors cannot monitor all workplaces 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. South Koreans (will continue to be) vulnerable to deadly overtime.”

According to the OECDSouth Koreans worked an average of 1,915 hours in 2021, well above the OECD average of 1,716 and the US average of 1,767.

Long hours, along with high levels of education and an increase in women entering the workforce, were once recognized as the driver of the country’s remarkable economic growth after the Korean War in the 1950s, when it passed. from being a poor economy to one of the richest in the world. .

However, critics say the flip side of those long hours can be clearly seen in the dozens of cases of “gwarosa” – “death from overwork” – in which exhausted people pay with their lives through attacks. heart attacks, industrial accidents or driving without sleep.

Haein Shim, a spokeswoman for the Seoul-based women’s group Haeil, said the country’s rapid growth and economic success had come at a cost and that the proposal to extend working hours reflected the “reluctance of the government to acknowledge the realities of society.” South Korean”.

She said that the “isolation and lack of community resulting from long working hours and intense work days” was already taking its toll on many workers and that “reckless working hours will further exacerbate the challenges Korean women face.” ”.

In addition to gwarosa cases, the country also has the highest suicide rate among developed nations, according to data from the National Statistics Office, he noted.

“It is crucial that the government (and business) address the urgent issues that are already affecting lives,” Shim said. “The need for support and a healthy work-life balance cannot be overlooked if we are to ensure the well-being of people with the highest suicide rate in the OECD.”

In 2017, the year before the government lowered the limit on working hours, hundreds of people died from overwork, according to government data. Even when the limit was lowered to 52 hours, “gwarosa” cases continued to make headlines. In 2020, unions said 14 delivery drivers had died due to overwork, sacrificing their mental health and well-being to keep the country going during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The CNN Wire
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With previous reporting by CNN’s Jake Kwon and Alexandra Field

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