While six months have passed since an agreement was reached to extend the unit period of the flexible working hour system, the related bill had not passed the National Assembly, putting companies on edge.
Samsung Electronics Service Co. had to use 500 technical instructors for air conditioner repairs this summer to fill the shortage in workforce created by the application of a 52-hour workweek system. The total number of the company’s field workers is 7,400, meaning that about 8 percent of office workers were temporarily converted.
The labor union of Samsung Electronics Service, which was established this year, joined the Metal Workers' Union of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which is considered a radical labor union federation. So the company was not able to implement a three-month flexible labor system.
The labor and management of LG Electronics agreed to implement the system for three months in May, June, and July and then agreed for another three months -- August, September, and October -- ahead of the busy seasons of late summer and the Chuseok Holiday period.
R&D companies say the three-month period is too short for them. “It takes us three months to suggest an idea,” said a company official. “An R&D project usually takes one year, meaning that there should be at least four agreements between labor and management to complete an R&D project. It is virtually impossible to reach a labor-management agreement each time without conditions.”
The construction industry is also put on red alert. Construction of infrastructure closely related to everyday life such as subways and hospitals is being delayed. Nine of 11 subway construction projects and 11 of 14 railway construction projects are suffering shortages in construction periods due to reduced working hours.
The fiasco will inevitably deteriorate next year when the 52-hour workweek system expands to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with 50 to 299 employees. “When a large company places an order with us, we have to work overtime for four to five months,” said an official of a research lab of a small electronic parts company. “Next year, our company will be subject to the 52-hour workweek rule. Due to the nature of development work, I am concerned whether the flexible working hour system will work well for our company.”
According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, about 5,000 (18.5 percent) of the 27,000 workplaces with 50 to 299 workers had employees who worked more than 52 hours a week as of January. The proportion of workplaces where employees worked more than 52 hours was only 11.9 percent, but was higher than that of business types excluded from special exceptions.