Long Workweeks in South Korea

Long Workweeks in South Korea

Olive Spohn, Reporter

Our overall average workweek hours in America amount to 34.7 hours, whereas in Korea, that number is over 52 hours! South Korean companies are able to avoid labor hour restrictions, and overwork employees to horrible lengths. Some companies even are advocating for even longer hours. Factories believe that raising the cap hours will help fill in the gap made by the labor shortage. Instead of aiming to open more jobs or expand facilities, companies have been prioritizing their budgets by incentivising workers to work longer hours. Another issue that these companies are claiming to address is the falling fertility rates (which arguably can be traced back to these long working hours). South Korea has lowered their max hours recently because of overwhelming pressure from workers, but they are hoping to reinstate those hours, and possibly raise them further. 


America is also facing issues in long work hours, and child employment – although it is different to the situation in South Korea for a few reasons. Most of these overworking issues in America can be traced back to immigrant workers who have been twisted into working twice as long as regulations permit. Although, this can also happen in other places when payment is separate from the hours they work. This can help companies avoid overtime payments for workers. Even government officials are rushing to the support of these companies in their questionable policies and long hours. Some officials are even supporting the long hours simply for their own employees. 


South Korea has been facing a falling fertility rate for a while now, as many families don’t have either the money or time to have children. Despite heavy encouragement from governments, people just simply can not afford to have kids. Of course, this is leading to labor shortages, and lengthening work hours in certain situations. This is an endless cycle that needs to be solved in one way or another.


Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of workers have died due to cases of “gwarosa” or overworking in South Korea. Even with the reduced work hours, countless workers are falling victim to these harsh situations. Many workers have sacrificed their personal lives and mental health for their work. In these cases, many people will end up spending time that should be spent resting, eating, or even going to the bathroom while working. 


In comparison to America, the longest work hours available are around 35 hours a week, and are mainly available to migrant workers. As well as in certain high-risk jobs that require long hours of concentrated work. This can be covered up in overtime, as well as “homework” for employees. Also, this is often a reality for migrant workers who are exploited for longer working hours. On the other hand, in South Korea, the majority of the population ends up getting overworked. Although, as Gen Z and Millennial workers are entering the workforce, they’re working to fight against these issues. So many young workers have been joining unions, starting protests, and fighting for their rights and their wellbeing. 

Cites https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/18/asia/south-korea-longer-work-week-debate-intl-hnk/index.html