|``Study hard, work hard” has long been Koreans’ catch phrase to make their small, resource-poor country the world’s 14th-largest economy.
The only problem with this time-old growth paradigm is it can neither last forever nor work well any longer in a post-industrialized Korea.
According to an OECD report, Koreans work for an average of 2,316 hours a year, 30 percent more than the average 1,768 hours put in by the 30-member club of the world’s richest countries, and far longer than runner-up Hungary’s 1,986 hours.
Unfortunately, Koreans’ level of satisfaction with their jobs hits the bottom level among OECD members, and their labor productivity stands at a mere 65 percent of the industrial countries’ average. It is small surprise then the government has recently decided to move toward reducing the nation’s notoriously long working hours.
Regrettably, however, major business associations have already voiced their opposition to the shorter workweek, citing ``enormous burdens” in labor costs, as shown in a report by the Federation of Korean industries, a chaebol lobby.
The FKI, for instance, is opposed to the government’s move to introduce ``substitute holiday” system, which calls for allowing replacement day-offs when national holidays fall on Sundays. But the difference of 548 hours between Korea’s and OECD’s working hours means Koreans work 69 eight-hour days more than their counterparts in other industrial countries. While many of these family-controlled conglomerates are awash with idle cash, should they worry about labor costs caused by allowing a few more days-off a year?
What the domestic businesses, large or small, should know is productivity _ or creativity in more modern terms _ comes from not longer but shorter workweek. We doubt whether the Korean firms have ever thought why Google lets its employees do whatever they want to do during 20 percent of their annual working hours.
The government’s initial steps for cutting working hours are not very hopeful, either. Officials were right to think about job sharing as a means of increasing job openings and curbing the high unemployment rate. But the first thing they did was to slash the starting pay for government employees and state enterprise workers as well as replacing two full-time workers with three part-timers.
The Lee Myung-bak administration’s labor policy-makers should know job sharing works only when they pay equal wages to the same kind _ and amount _ of labor, as confirmed by successful examples of foreign countries and businesses, including the Netherlands and automaker, Volkswagen. Nor does the Lee administration’s motivation for reducing working hours seem ``pure.” The officials were right when they cited the need for balancing work and life as the reason for a shorter workweek, but wrong when they decided to complete its preparation before the nation hosts the G-20 summit in November, which they regard as an event to ``decisively upgrade the nation’s global prestige.”
Changing the nation’s labor paradigm is a long-term issue that can greatly can affect the work and life of all Koreans, and not the one that should be worked out in haste to show to foreign guests. Unless the new system works to expand social safety networks and leads to a more employment-friendly labor environment, it could only end up as aggravating both the work and lives of Koreans.
2월 18일 (목) The Korea Times 사설
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