South Korea controversially proposing maximum workweek of 69 hours

South Korea's president, Yoon Suk Yeol.
South Korea's president, Yoon Suk Yeol. Photo credit: Getty

Just as several countries are considering legislation to allow for four-day working weeks, one nation could increase its maximum workweek.

South Korea's conservative government proposed last Monday to increase the legal limit on weekly hours of work to 69, from the current 52.

Construction firms, manufacturers, and tech companies supported the bill, but it has sparked a backlash from the opposition party, unions, and workers around the country.

Dr Maria Neira from the World Health Organisation said working 55 hours or above each week "is a serious health hazard".

"It's time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death," she said in a statement.


South Korea is known for its workaholic culture, working an average of 1915 hours per year, significantly higher than the OECD average of 1716.

Its centre-right government said the proposed law would give employers different options for counting overtime - either monthly, quarterly, or yearly.

Employees would then be able to work overtime during busy periods, and later reclaim it as leave.

South Korea's population is rapidly ageing, while the workforce and birth rates are dropping.

Its fertility rate was just 0.78 last year - the lowest in the world.

The opposition People Power Party (Gungminuihim), said they would block the proposal, citing workplace injuries and deaths from being overworked.


It comes as countries around the world implement four-day workweeks.

Companies in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia have had their own four-day trials recently, with Unilever NZ announcing last November that they would keep the policy.

Charlotte Lockhart, founder of 4 Day Week Global told 7News Australia's trials have given promising results.

"The interesting thing with the conversations we're having at company and government level is the companies that have joined that ended up choosing to reduce their workweeks permanently."

Last week, a parliamentary committee in Australia recommended a four-day workweek pilot nationwide across industries.

Workers must maintain 100 percent productivity for full pay, while only working 80 percent of their usual hours.

Participants in four-day work pilots generally report better productivity, improved work-life balance and well-being, plus the normalisation of self-care.