Monday, August 11, 2003

40-hour mindset

The Issue Report from the Samsung Economic Research Institute gives an outline of some issues introducing the 5-day work week. Its not a long in-depth piece so I'd like to add my two cents to some of the things it brought up. First, the paper discusses the issues of contention, which include, number of leaves, wages, and timing of introduction.

On the matter of number of leaves, I think that perhaps the number of public holidays could be reduced to compensate for the new two-day weekends but in terms of annual paid, the tight fisted companies in this country, according to mine own experience, could stand to increase rather than decrease holidays. On getting a job in Australia I was automatically on four weeks a year, in this country into my third year of full time employment I still get one measely week plus my 'summer vacation week'. And while I will say that the inconvenient business hours in Australia compared to Korea mean that some 'holidays' have to be taken simply to pay bills and get household things done, the level of holidays granted to Korean workers is low. And I strongly agree that the ridiculous 'menstrual leave' should be abolished and should never have been conceived. The image that holiday gives to women is degrading and shameful and only makes women look like sickly weak little cry-babies who don't have the sense to take a pain killer and get on with our jobs.

On wages, I won't dispute that I don't know enough at the company level to argue strongly on this case, but I am of the understanding that foreign companies on average (or in full) pay locals more than average wages and only have five day work weeks. It would seem to me that Korean companies, the large ones at least, are more than competitive enought to absorb the four fewer hours without reducing pay. Or perhaps delaying the next pay rise by some time. I'm not sure. The case may be more sensitive for smaller companies. For larger companies also, if they just made sure their 'salary men' stopped taking their one-hour nap after lunch you would immediatley increase their work week by five hours over the four official hours they would be dropping for Saturdays. A win-win strategy.

The wages issue also mentions overtime rates. Now the argument in the text goes something like - labour unions insist on high overtime rates remaining to discourage companies from forcing them to work as much as possible. But it would appear to my, perhaps simple mind, that if you decreased the rate of overtime than the employees would be less inclined to a) listen to their boss asking them to work overtime when they could be enjoying their leisure time b) be less inclined to sit around reading the paper after work to take advantage of high overtime rates. Perhaps I missed something in the text though that would clarify this topic more for me.

The third issue is the timing of introduction. I thing the time suggested of 2005 - 2012 is a tad way too long. Whilst I agree smaller companies may need time to adjust, etc, etc, that time is too long. Even 2005 - 2010 sounds more reasonable and would prompt more action at the outset. I also think 2004 sounds better than 2005 especially since they've been arguing the issue since 1998!!! For a country that prides itself on a 'quick quick' culture they sure are slow at some things.

The paper then discusses some impacts and covers pro and cons and possible negative and positive outcomes. I tend to think the negative is view is overly pessimistic. Korea is well and truly developed economically and socially to absorb this change and make it work if they want to. If productivity declined it certainly is not the fault of a five day work week but the mindsets that have to adopt to it.

And finally, The author brings up two good points. One, a five day work week needs to encompass flexibility so that shorter work hours doesn't mean that everything is closed on Saturdays. I thought this was a funny thing about the banks. Even Australia can open banks and shops, etc for a few hours on Saturdays, surely Korea can work out that you have to rearrange the staffing schedules.

The second point, somewhat related, is the matter to make the 5-day workweek more a 40-hour work week mindset to reduce this Monday to Friday notion of working hours. That way, things can still operate around the clock or whenever, as long as the hours are in line with the policy.

When I first started working (a six-day week of course!) and I heard of the introduction of a 5-day work week, I niavely thought it could happen in my time. Two years ago I realised that it could never be. And with just four more weeks left of working in Korea all that is left is to hope that it comes sooner rather than later cause a six-day work week, especially if your just a regular joe in the corporate machine, is no way to live a life.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui