July 06, 2018 12:52
A growing number of workers complain that their bosses pester them with text messages after hours despite the new 52-hour working week that went into effect last week.
A poll by the Korea Labor Institute shows that workers are willing to take an 8.7-percent pay cut if they do not have to answer text messages from their bosses after work.
The institute studied ways to make that possible, but unlike countries like France it reached a preliminary conclusion that the law cannot completely prevent bosses from pestering staff after hours.
In a report obtained by the Chosun Ilbo on Thursday, the institute says it is impossible to enact a law prohibiting after-hours contact and recommends instead that labor and management settle the matter between them.
Some workers believe that remaining available for calls from their boss should technically be considered overtime, but under current laws work hours are considered as the time an employee "is under direct supervision and direction" of their superior.
The Korea Association of Law and Politics said, "Workers' rights to choose where and how to use their free time is not violated by simply remaining available to answer questions from their boss."
Kim Ki-sun at the institute said, "It will probably be impossible to calculate responding to short questions about tomorrow's schedule either by text or e-mail as overtime."
But specific instructions given after work and following through on them should be construed as work. A Labor Ministry official said, "But a uniform principle for what constitutes work is difficult to draw up. We will have to consider things case by case."
During his election campaign, President Moon Jae-in pledged to let Korean workers, who work some of the longest hours in the world, finish on time, and a bill is pending in the National Assembly. But the institute said it will be impossible to enforce, even if the aim is laudable.
One problem is how to single out emergencies when exceptions to the law must be made. The bill contains the clause, "Contacting workers is allowed if there is a justifiable reason." But "justifiable reason" is a broad church and will require defining more narrowly.
The Labor Ministry also considered preventing bosses from pestering workers after work hours but concluded that there is a lack of legal precedent.
Last year, France gave workers the "right to disconnect" when their bosses contact them after hours, but it has proved widely ineffective and concrete measures have been left to labor and management to solve.
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