The Economic, Social and Labor Council of South Korea announced on Feb. 19 that an agreement has been reached on extending the unit period of flexible working hours to up to six months from the current unit period of up to three months.
Once the new unit period becomes effective, the working hours of each working day can be fixed on a weekly basis without having to be fixed in advance and workers can be notified of the working hours at least two weeks ahead. In the event of a situation that could not be predicted by an employer, such as a natural disaster, machinery malfunction and a sudden rapid increase in workload, the weekly working hours can be adjusted based on a written agreement and through negotiations with a representative worker with the average weekly working hours pertaining to the current unit period maintained. In addition, employers have to prepare wage maintenance measures and report them to the Ministry of Employment and Labor so that the flextime can be prevented from being misused. A penalty is imposed in the event of violation.
The agreement is scheduled to be handled at the National Assembly for legislation, yet it is uncertain if relevant laws can be amended before the test operation of the new unit period ends on March 31. The Liberty Korea Party is boycotting this month's extraordinary session of the National Assembly, making it impossible for the competent Environment and Labor Committee to discuss the issue. Some workers are opposed to the plan, too. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), which did not participate in the discussion at the council, is planning to go on a strike on March 6 to boycott the new unit period.
Many employers claimed until recently that the unit period should be extended to one year. They include those in the oil refining, chemical and ICT industries, which are characterized by concentration of work for certain periods. Meanwhile, the labor community objected to the demand, citing a decrease in wage and physical health deterioration. “Under the current Labor Standards Act, a worker may be required to work for up to 64 hours a week, including 12-hour overtime, if the unit period of flextime is set at three months,” the community explained, adding, “This means in theory that he or she may have to work for 64 hours a week for a month and a half, and then his or her health will be significantly affected.”
The labor community is concerned over a decrease in wage as well. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions released a report in November last year, claiming that flextime leads to a 7 percent decrease in workers’ wages.