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The Peninsula

Insufficient public review of labor standards

Published June 17, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

Implications: South Korean workers are vulnerable to unfair labor practices regardless of sector and contractual status. Although unsafe or unhealthy work practices in the IT sector have been blamed on the lack of institutionalized human resources in newer companies, the presence of similar concerns in well-established industries suggests the problem is systemic. The recent strike by tower crane operators over unsafe working conditions further underscores that the problem remains pervasive even in long-established sectors like construction. Although laws were passed to limit the workweek to 52 hours in 2018, many companies have resisted or evaded enforcement. For instance, government inspection discovered that managers at the messaging company Kakao instructed their employees to not log their overtime hours to bypass the 52-hours weekly limit.

Context: Challenges stemming from inadequate enforcement of safe labor standards become even more pointed for workers who are considered either part-time or contract employees. During the COVID-19 pandemic, heightened demand for delivery services drew attention to the couriers’ long work hours and their working conditions. Many of these workers are employed as contract workers despite working over 52 hours a week for their employers. In response, the National Assembly passed a bill in December of 2020 to expand contract workers’ rights. However, critics argued that the bill was ambiguous and allowed companies to have workers opt out of their new benefits. These weaknesses suggest that challenges facing contract employees may persist despite the recent public attention.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sean Blanco, Marina Dickson, and Jina Park. Picture from flickr account of The Republic of Korea.

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