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Bill that could add four holidays this year gains traction

Extra days off could boost spending, stimulate economy, ruling party says

A beach in Sokcho, Gangwon Province, on Sunday is filled with visitors enjoying their day off. (Yonhap)
A beach in Sokcho, Gangwon Province, on Sunday is filled with visitors enjoying their day off. (Yonhap)
A bill aimed at expanding the substitute holiday system is gaining support at the National Assembly, as the ruling party pushes to ensure it goes into effect in the coming weeks.

The substitute holiday system at the moment provides an extra day off when the Lunar New Year, Chuseok or Children’s Day holidays fall on weekends. The bill seeks to expand this rule to all holidays that may fall on weekends, which would provide extra days off in almost any year.

If the bill passes and comes into force starting next month, four more holidays will be guaranteed in the second half of this year, as this year’s National Liberation Day, National Foundation Day, Hangeul Day and Christmas fall on weekends.

There is a high possibility that the bill will be enacted this month, as the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, which holds a majority in the 300-seat National Assembly, is determined to process the proposal, and only two more steps remain for the bill to be passed.

Ruling party lawmakers on Tuesday passed the bill in the legislative review subcommittee under the Public Administration and Security Committee. The bill now awaits a committee vote before it can be put to a final vote at a plenary session.

The bill has gained traction within political circles as South Korea looks to stimulate an economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed leisure activities and discretionary consumption. Granting extra holidays has long been used as a means to promote spending from the general public.

“There were a lot of working people who were distressed with the fact that a lot of holidays are to be gone this year as they fall on weekends,” said Yun Ho-jung, floor leader of the ruling party, in a party meeting last week.

“We will process this bill on substitute holidays in June to give back those ‘red days’ to the people.”

According to a poll of 1,012 Koreans aged 18 or older from the office of Rep. Seo Young-kyo of the ruling party who heads the Public Administration and Security Committee, 72.5 percent of respondents said they were in favor of an expanded substitute holiday system.

Chances are high that the bill experiences almost no delay in gaining official enactment, yet opposition lawmakers have voiced that the bill fails to address potential damage to those working in small businesses, who would not fall under the scope of the substitute holiday system.

The current system grants extra days off for holidays falling on weekends, but those working at businesses with five or fewer employees have been exempt from the benefit. The bill in discussion also has that exemption, which is why opposition lawmakers opposed passing the bill right away.

The exemption disadvantages workers at smaller firms, opposition lawmakers say, and deleting that exemption would require additional legislation to avoid conflicts with the Labor Standards Act.

Removing the exemption is also expected to inflict financial damage on small businesses, as they would have to pay workers 50 percent more for coming into work on holidays or substitute days off.

By Ko Jun-tae (