By Lee Sun-young
The Labor Ministry's drive to end long working hours faltered in the face of strong resistance from industries over its possible impact on labor costs.
Minister Lee Chae-pil admitted Friday that he has dropped a plan to submit in June a revision to the labor law aimed at regulating weekend and holiday work.
In a meeting organized by the Presidential Office, economy-related ministers, including Lee, discussed the matter and concluded that the country should take more time to find a more practical and realistic solution, he added.
"We all agreed that it was a right direction for the country to move," the minister told reporters. "But given the circumstances, it's better to have more study and discussion than just pushing for a law change with a set time table. That's what the ministers concluded."
Since taking office as labor minister in May last year, Lee has strongly pushed for a revision of the Labor Standards Act to include weekend and holiday work in calculation of overtime work which is by the law capped at 12 hours a week.
The law stipulates a 40-hour workweek rule and limits overtime to 12 hours per week. But due to no guideline on weekend or holiday work, it is not illegal to have an employee work on the weekends and holidays on top of the legal maximum of 52 hours a week.
Lee's drive to reduce working hours had faced resistance from both employers and some workers. Companies feared a rise in labor costs, while some workers said they prefer fatter paychecks to shorter hours.
"Unlike some other countries, in Korea, there is psychological resistance to less work," Lee said.
The ministry urged both employers and employees to break away from the long-ingrained long-hours culture and together come up with a workable plan.
The Korea Tripartite Commission, an official dialogue forum of workers, employers and the government, is currently working on measures to reduce working hours and the ministry will wait for its outcome, Lee added.
Korea has the longest average working hours among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Korean workers' annual hours came in at 2,111 in 2010 against the organization's average of 1,692.