In this year’s presidential election, Candidate Yoon Seok-yeol, the leading opposition party leader, made waves with his remarks in July of last year, right after he declared his candidacy, saying, “You should work hard, even if it’s 120 hours a week, and then you should be able to rest to your heart’s content.” However, as the controversy grew, Candidate Yoon explained that the purpose was to give people the right to self-determination about working conditions rather than uniformly regulating working hours. Let’s move on to aegyo to explain that his remarks were not “to allow unfair labor practices”. However, on the 10th of this month, he visited the Namdong Industrial Complex in Incheon and made a similar statement, saying, “There are many requests to set the average 52 hours a week.” At this point, I think I can understand a little bit of Yun’s intentions. He seems to be unaware of the already implemented flexible working hour system, or he wants to introduce the flexible working hour system as an exception to working hours at all times.
Actually, I didn’t mean to talk about Candidate Yoon. I wanted to tell the story of a company that shows very well how the ‘future’ that Candidate Yoon envisions is being realized in reality. The repair technicians of L Company, the world’s number one home appliance company beyond Korea, are already suffering in the future.
The flexible working hour system is a system that allows workers to work up to 52 hours per week for a specific period without paying statutory allowances for overtime work if the average unit period is 40 hours per week. If two months is set as a unit period, it means that the first month can work 28 hours a week, and the rest of the month can work 52 hours a week. According to the current law, a system that can increase working hours at a specific time according to Candidate Yoon’s wishes already exists. In the past, this unit period was only allowed for up to three months, but politicians, who do not have any opposition in favor of companies, amended the Labor Standards Act in December 2020 to extend this unit period to a maximum of six months so that it can be used virtually all the time. Doo even gave ‘great consideration’.
The problem is that in this case, the maximum ‘predetermined working hours’ per week is increased to a maximum of 52 hours, and 12 hours of overtime per week is allowed as an ‘additional’. In other words, if the flexible working hour system is used, a company will be able to work up to 64 hours per week (52 hours for fixed hours + 12 hours for overtime) at a specific time. Some may believe that this will not happen unless the worker ‘agrees’ because Article 53 Paragraph 2 of the Labor Standards Act requires ‘agreement between the parties’ as a requirement for overtime work in addition to the flexible working hour system. That sounds naive.
Aside from whether or not workers can make a complete ‘agreement’ with the employer in reality, Company L designed the system from the beginning in such a way that workers cannot exercise the right to agree on overtime work, and limit the working hours of up to 52 hours per week. They were forced to work longer hours.
Article 51-2 (3) of the Labor Standards Act stipulates that when a flexible working hour system is introduced, working hours must be notified ‘by working day’ two weeks before the start of the working day. However, Company L came up with a trick here. The agreement was made ‘out of the box’ without distinguishing between the prescribed working hours due to the introduction of the flexible working hour system and the extended working hours according to Article 53 Paragraph 2 of the Labor Standards Act, and this was communicated to the workers.
In this case, even if a worker wants to refuse overtime work, it is impossible to distinguish which part of the daily working hours is the prescribed working time for which he or she is obligated to work, and where the overtime is the overtime over which he can exercise his right to agree. For example, in reality, even if the prescribed working hours are 10 hours per day and 2 hours of overtime due to the introduction of the flexible working hour system on a specific day, if this is not separately notified, the worker’s working hours will be reduced to 8 hours. + There is no way to know whether the overtime is 12 hours with 4 hours of work, or whether the prescribed working hours are 12 hours. Therefore, they have no choice but to work all 12 hours crying and eating mustard. If a worker arbitrarily decides that the prescribed working time is 8 hours and leaves the office after working for 8 hours, he or she will be subject to penalties such as disciplinary action for not performing the prescribed work hours.
In fact, the repair worker at Company L refused to give the company unreasonable work orders on the grounds that the agreed flexible working hour system, including overtime, violated the Labor Standards Act. He asked the company to notify the company separately for prescribed and overtime work so that the right to agree to overtime work could be exercised. The working hours for each working day were notified only on the day of the start of the year. And as soon as the summer peak season was over, he was severely punished with a suspension of one month for not following the company’s business instructions.
This worker has filed a claim for unfair honesty remedy with the Labor Relations Commission, arguing that it is unfair to be disciplined for refusing to work illegally or unfairly. If it is concluded that the company’s flexible working hour system including overtime is justified, the repair workers in Company L will continue to work up to 64 hours per week, leaving the right to agree on overtime as a ‘foreign country’ in the future. You might be forced to do it like a slave.
Some politicians say that loosening the working hours limit would be good for workers and good for companies, packaging their promises and policies with ‘goodwill’ and calling it ‘freedom’. However, even world-class conglomerates that are not hole-in-the-wall stores ignore and avoid even the stipulated right to agree on working hours and overtime, which are stipulated in the law. If the maximum working hours is limited to 52 hours a week, it will be devised to force it to 64 hours. The road to hell is always paved with good intentions.