South Korea kicks off 52-hour maximum workweek

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Starting this month, South Korean workers cannot work over 52 hours per week — they are allowed 40 hours of regular work and 12 hours of extra work time. If the rules are not followed, a business owner can face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to 20 million won (US$17,945).

The new change, effective for businesses with more than 300 employees, public institutions and government offices, is expected to bring a big change in everyday life.

Korean businesses have been bracing for the system for the past few months by hiring more workers, overhauling their working hour systems and adopting flexible hours to meet their particular needs.

The Ministry of Labor expects businesses to adopt to the new system without much of a hitch, as many larger Korean big businesses and their subsidiaries have already implemented it.

A survey carried out last month by the ministry on 3,627 businesses with more than 300 workers showed that 59 percent had already enforced the 52-hour maximum workweek.

The problem lies with small and medium-sized companies as they have been facing a variety of difficulties, including trouble hiring new people.

Given the circumstances, the government is implementing a six-month grace period for those companies to take their time in applying the change and allow the system to take root. In order to oversee a smooth transition, the labor ministry hired 200 labor supervisors in the first half of the year and plans to hire another 600.

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