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Moon’s top policy aide urges businesses to embrace ‘labor-friendly’ initiatives

President Moon Jae-in’s top policy aide urged business leaders on Wednesday to support a government bill drafted to expand the scope of the 52-hour-week system, amid growing concerns that the administration’s policies are imposing a financial burden on them.

“The government will continue to advocate labor rights. Such a policy stance won’t change,” said Kim Sang-jo, chief policy secretary for the president, at a meeting with members of Korea Employers’ Federation.

“(Industry) innovation carried out without fair and inclusive (rules) cannot be sustainable, and will interfere in the process of forging social integration by intensifying inequality,” he said.

Presidential Chief Policy Secretary Kim Sang-jo. Yonhap
Presidential Chief Policy Secretary Kim Sang-jo. Yonhap

Starting next year, companies with 300 emplyees must abide by the new workweek rule. Large firms with more than 300 workers have been following the rule since July 2018. If a company violates it, the employer can face up to two years in prison or a fine of around 20 million won ($17,089).

The former head of the country’s antitrust watchdog Fair Trade Commission, also called for the business leaders to support the legislation of flexible workhour system.

The flexible work hour system is designed to help employers keep the 52-hour workweek rule by creating a system of flexible working hours for employees. If an employees’ working hours exceed 52 per week, they can reduce their working hours another week.

While the government, corporate representatives and labor unions last month agreed to proceed with the flexible work-hour system, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party said they won’t support the legislation unless there are more measures to offset the downside of adopting flexible working hours.

Korea Enterprise Federation Chairman Sohn Kyung-shik, however, voiced concern over increased labor costs and urged the government to take “complimentary measures” for a 52-hour workweek system.

“Reducing working hours without due consideration -- such as implementing a 52-hour workweek regulation can prevent the companies from actively expanding their business at home and overseas,” said Sohn.

Pointing out the possibility of a flexible working hour could worsen labor shortage in SMEs and undermine their business performance, Sohn said companies with less than 300 employees should be granted a one-year grace period before implementing the rule.

By Yeo Jun-suk (