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Korea proposes 5-day workweek

South Korea’s government recently proposed an amendment bill to shorten the workweek to 5 days. At a meeting of economic ministers on Tuesday, the amendment was agreed upon. However, both the labor and business sectors strongly oppose this potential switch to a shorter workweek; once again, the nation’s 5 business associations are voicing their strong disapproval. These associations, which include Korea Employers Federation, fear the government will not readjust the new number of public holidays and vacation days to stand level with that of international standards, and will keep weekends as paid holidays. In the face of such a new system, the longstanding principle of “no work, no pay” might crumble. Therefore, they have called for a proposed postponement of the 5-day workweek until 2005 for businesses with less than 100 employees.

In response, South Korea’s two umbrella labor unions, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, issued a joint statement stating that they would not hesitate to go on a general strike if such a bill to postpone the new system were passed; they might even strike when the National Assembly and its standing committees convene. This is because about half of all Korean laborers work in small and midi-sized companies, and they would all be stopped from enjoying a shorter workweek until 2005. KCTU senses that the new bill is catering to the demands of the business sector, using the 5-day workweek as a first step towards degrading labor conditions.

With this strong opposition from the labor and employers associations, the National Assembly is unlikely to pass the amendment without a fight.

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