The Korea Herald


[News Focus] Koreans worked 200 more hours than OECD average in 2020

By Kim Yon-se

Published : Aug. 17, 2021 - 15:00

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Headquarters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris (OECD) Headquarters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris (OECD)

SEJONG -- South Koreans were found to have worked longer by about 200 hours last year compared to the average of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In the Paris-based organization’s analysis of annual work hours logged by its 36 members, Korea ranked No. 3. Turkey was not included in the count.

The OECD defined average annual hours worked as the total number of hours actually worked per year divided by the average number of people in employment per year.

Each employed Korean worked 1,908 hours a year in 2020, 221 hours more than the OECD average of 1,687 hours.

Korea’s annual working hours was 141 hours longer than in the US, which came at 1,767 hours per annum, and 310 hours longer than Japan’s at 1,598 hours. Korea also outstripped France (1,402) and the UK (1,367).
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald) (Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

Last year, Germany posted the shortest work hours with 1,332 hours per annum, followed by Denmark -- where many employees get off work around 4 p.m. -- with 1,346 hours.

The UK ranked third-lowest with 1,367, followed by Norway with 1,369, the Netherlands with 1,399, Austria with 1,400, France with 1,402, and Sweden with 1,424. The next on the list were Luxembourg, Iceland, Belgium, Switzerland, Slovenia, Finland, Italy, Slovakia, Spain and Portugal.

Among other English-speaking countries, Canada posted 1,664 hours, Australia notched 1,683, New Zealand logged 1,739 and Ireland recorded 1,746.

Only Colombia (in 2019) and Mexico ranked above Korea among the 36 countries with 2,172 and 2,124 hours, respectively, while Chile, Israel and the US ranked fourth, fifth and sixth.

Korea’s high ranking has maintained despite efforts to help the country move to a lower spot on the list over the past decade. The country recorded the longest work hours among OECD countries for four consecutive years from 2008 to 2011.

The incumbent administration has been introducing a 52-hour workweek guideline on a gradual basis by payroll scale from the former 68-hour workweek.

Advocates highlighted it would mean a better quality of life during weekends and wider job opportunities for more temporary workers or part-timers.

On the contrary, other critics expressed concern that employees could be paid lower-than-expected severance pay, in proportion to the scaled back-workweeks.

Further, small-business owners have protested the move, claiming that the revised Labor Standards Act “is aggravating their workforce by creating shortage problems and undermining productivity.”

Separate OECD data showed that South Korea lagged far behind major countries in employment rate, despite the long working hours.

In 2020, Korea recorded a 65.9 percent employment rate for people aged between 15-64, which is deemed the working age population. The nation was behind its Asia-Pacific neighbors such as Japan at 77.3 percent, New Zealand at 76.8 percent and Australia at 72.7 percent.

Among the members ranked above Korea in the employment rate were the Czech Republic (74.4 percent), Estonia (73.7 percent), Lithuania (71.6 percent), Slovenia (70.8 percent), Hungary (69.7 percent) and Poland (68.7 percent).

Russia, a non-OECD member, also came in higher than Korea at 70 percent amid the pandemic last year.

In contrast, temporary workers in Korea accounted for a staggering 26.1 percent among the total salaried workers in 2020. This was the second-highest among OECD members.

The figure far surpassed the OECD average of 11.4 percent, the European Union average of 13.6 percent and the Group of Seven average of 8.6 percent for the corresponding year.

The portion of temporary employees was 15.4 percent in Japan, 11.6 percent in Canada, 7.6 percent in New Zealand and 5.3 percent in the UK.