(LEAD) Gov’t to decide on maximum weekly work hours after listening to workers: presidential office

The government will decide on the maximum weekly work hours after carefully listening to the voices of vulnerable workers, the presidential office said Wednesday.

Currently, the legal cap is 52 hours per week, but the labor ministry has proposed a revision allowing the cap to be raised to 69 hours during periods of heavy workloads on condition that the total work hours in a month do not exceed the limit in the current 52-hour workweek system.

Businesses welcomed the proposal, but critics, especially younger people known as Generation MZ, complained it could force them to overwork.

"The focus of President Yoon Suk Yeol's labor market policy is on protecting the rights and interests of MZ workers, non-union members, workers at small and medium-sized firms, and other vulnerable workers," senior presidential secretary for press affairs Kim Eun-hye told reporters, using a Korean portmanteau for millennials and Gen Z.

"The working hour flexibilization policy is meant to allow what was bound by weeks to be changed to months, quarters, halves and years, and to be freely discussed between labor and management, but we will set the direction of the maximum weekly work hours after listening more carefully to the opinions of vulnerable workers," she said.

The proposed revision came as businesses complained of difficulties in meeting deadlines due to the 52-hour workweek.

It is undergoing a public review before being sent to the National Assembly for approval in June-July.

Later in the day, Labor Minister Lee Jeong-sik hinted that the government may make changes to the proposed revision.

Asked by a journalist about whether the government would change the proposed 69-hour workweek, Lee replied that the government "leaves open all possibilities."

Yoon instructed the government Tuesday to review areas that need to be improved in the details of the bill and in communicating with the public by listening closely to the opinions of workers, and especially the opinions of millennials and Gen Z.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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