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Plan to Allow 69-Hour Work Week Upsets Gen Zs, Millennials in South Korea

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(Bloomberg) — South Korea will consider its plan to increase the maximum weekly work hours to 69 after its “MZ Generation” of millennials and Generation Z members balked at the idea that many saw as destroying a healthy work-life balance.

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The office of President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed relevant agencies to consider plans to revise the current cap of 52 hours and “communicate better with the public, especially with Generation Z and millennials,” press secretary Kim Eun-hye said in a statement Tuesday.

The move could be seen as a retreat for Yoon, who has backed pro-business policies. His administration had sought to raise the stamp, saying it would allow employers greater flexibility to keep their doors open longer to meet demands during periods of peak activity. It was also designed to help bank workers more hours that could be used for time off at periods convenient for them.

But labor unions, including those led by outspoken members of the country’s MZ generation, said the proposal would lead to more time on the job and undermine the progress of the country has made in reducing the average working hours that rank among the highest in the developed world.

South Korea is already the most overworked country in Asia with employees logging an average of 1,915 hours in 2021. This is 199 hours more than the average among members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and about 33% more than in Germany.

It also comes as countries including Australia and the UK are considering a four-day workweek aimed at giving workers more time away from the office.

Keeping the support of younger voters will be a top priority for Yoon as his conservative People Power Party tries to win a majority in parliamentary elections that will be held in about a year.

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The progressive Democratic Party, which holds a majority in parliament, enacted a measure in 2018 to cap the workweek at 52 hours and has fought against the changes floated by Yoon’s PPP.

The labor ministry under Yoon had suggested last week to revise the current 52-hour workweek system for calculations on a monthly, quarterly and yearly basis that could allow hours to swell during peak periods. Prior to the announcement, the revised bill was expected to be submitted to the parliament as early as June.

The Serogochim Labor Union with 8,000 members, many of whom are from MZ Generation, said in a statement last week the government’s plan runs counter to global trends and could encourage workers at home to ramp up hours beyond acceptable limits.

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Long working hours have also been cited as one of the factors behind the country having the world’s lowest fertility rate, with time at the job taking away from time parents could use to take care of their children.

–With assistance from Emily Yamamoto.

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