Employees work at Kia Motors' plant in Sohar-ri, Gyeonggi Province, in this file photo. Hyundai Motor Group said Sunday that it will abolish the overnight shift at all its Hyundai and Kia plants from today. / Courtesy of Hyundai Motor
By Kim Tae-jong
Hyundai Motor Group said Sunday it will abolish the night shift at its Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors plants and instead introduce two consecutive shifts per day from today.
Officials said it is a historical step as it will put an end to the overnight shift system that has been maintained for 46 years, since the opening of Hyundai Motor's Ulsan plant in 1967.
"This will drastically enhance working conditions for employees and improve the quality of life for workers by reducing their working hours," an official from the group said. "They can now spend more time with their family members and enjoy more leisure activities."
The new system will change the lifestyles of 50,000 workers at the two automakers, and their family members, he said.
The decision came after unions at the two automakers and management agreed to abolish the system during discussions on wages and working conditions last year.
The end to the night shift has been a pending issue since 2003, when a task force was organized after the sides failed to narrow their differences.
Under the new system, the two automakers will replace the previous two 10-hour shifts with eight- and nine-hour shifts. Before its full inauguration, a two-week test run was conducted in January at Hyundai's Ulsan plan, with more than 90 percent of those involved saying they expected better leisure time.
Previously, the first shift began at 8 a.m. and ended at 6:50 p.m., with the second shift running from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. This will change to a first shift from 6:40 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., and a second from 3:20 p.m. until 1:10 a.m. Individual workers' working hours will drop to 8.5 from 10 per day, adding up to about 236 hours less per year.
Despite the deduction in total working hours, the unions agreed to maintain current production volumes by improving productivity.
Hyundai and Kia were expected see a drop in production of 185,000 and 179,000 vehicles annually due to the reduction in working hours. However, the unions and management agreed to make up for the expected decrease by enhancing vehicle production per hour to 432 from 402 at Hyundai's Ulsan and Asan plants and from 308.3 to 338.3 at Kia's Sohari, Hwaseong and Gwangju plants.
Industry insiders said the nation's largest automaker's decision will have an impact on the industry, especially at a time the new government plans to shorten Korea's notoriously long working hours in a bid to improve quality of life and create more jobs.
Korean workers put in 2,193 hours annually on average, more than 400 hours longer than the OECD average of 1,749 hours, according to data in 2010.
In her election campaign, President Park Geun-hye promised to reduce Korea's work hours to the OECD average by 2020.