Workers Lament 1st Payday for Shorter Working Week

  • By Jang Hyeong-tae

    August 14, 2018 12:25

    Workers in big companies who got their first paycheck this month since their working week was shortened to a maximum of 52 hours are reeling from the shock.

    Most knew that overtime pay would be cut now that they no longer work the longest hours in the world, but not all realized quite by how much. Many posted complaints on the Cheong Wa Dae website and elsewhere online.

    In a straw poll by job search portal Incruit of 557 salaried workers, 18.1 percent said the biggest change of the shorter working week was a drop in pay.

    One 43-year-old staffer at a machine parts manufacturer in Gyeonggi Province saw his monthly pay drop about 18 percent from W3.83 million in June to W3.17 million last month (US$1=W1,134). His base pay of course remains unchanged at around W2.1 million, but overtime pay nearly halved from W1.55 million to W810,000. 

    One woman wrote on a web chat board for housewives in the steel city of Pohang, "I wept when I saw my husband's July paycheck. He used to earn W3 million a month working Saturdays and every other Sunday, but now he only earns W2 million."

    "After paying W600,000 a month to repay our debts and cover our credit card bills, we are left with nothing," she added. "How can we possibly enjoy our evenings when we have no money to spend?"

    The aim of the reduction in working hours was to prevent employees from working themselves to the bone like the woman's husband, but some have clearly jumped from the frying pan into the fire. 

    Some experts project a widening income gap between workers at major conglomerates, who enjoy rock-solid salaries and benefits, and those employed at mid-size companies who often rely on overtime to make ends meet.

    Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK Telecom and other major conglomerates agreed with their unionized workers to maintain their existing pay even with the shorter working week, but not all employers are so rich or enlightened and not all workers are protected by powerful unions.

    One official at the Korea Federation of SMEs said, "Workers at small and mid-sized companies earn only 60 percent of what employees of major business conglomerates make. We will see the wage gap widen in the future."

    The working week was capped at 52 hours in July for companies with more than 300 employees, while companies with 50 to 300 workers will wait until 2020.

    Another aim was to encourage hiring to make up for any shortfall in productivity. But the state-run Korea Development Institute predicts that the number of jobs will shrink by 3,000 in 2019 and another 233,000 jobs will disappear by the time smaller employers shorten the working week.

    One mid-sized food manufacturer in Gyeonggi Province is already rushing to automate its production lines in anticipation of the shorter working week.

    The government is offering incentives for two years for employers and employees. It will provide up to W800,000 a month per extra worker employers hire and W400,000 for employees to make up for their lost wages. But so far not many employers have bitten. 

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