South Korea's new President Moon Jae-In has announced the Government's support for greater work-life balance for Korean employees, including proposals to curb Korea's notoriously long work days, broaden parental leave and ease the burden of childcare costs.

Following President Moon Jae-In's election on 9 May 2017, the Korean Government has pledged to introduce a variety of measures to help curb long working hours and improve work-life balance for ordinary Koreans.

Key proposals include an obligation on companies to record their employees' work hours; to adhere to the 52-hour limit on maximum weekly working hours; reduce overtime exemptions; and extend the substitute holiday system to private employees.

Proposed new Government initiatives

The Government has unveiled plans to introduce the following measures:

1. Monthly subsidies for parents with children under five

Childcare subsidies are currently granted to the parents of infants who attend kindergarten, and a monthly allowance of KRW100,000 to KRW200,000 per child is granted to those who do not attend kindergarten.

The Government has pledged to provide monthly subsidies to parents starting from KRW 100,000 and increasing in value until children reach five years of age. To ease the burden of childcare on families, the Government has also announced plans to expand state-run day care centres and extend parental leave.

2. Time recording of employees' hours

This proposal would require companies to record employees' time spent in the office. This will have various benefits to employees, including assisting them to keep track of their weekly working hours for overtime claims and making it easier for them to bring a claim for unpaid work against their employer, as the employer would bear the onus of ensuring all work hours are recorded.

3. Adherence to a 52-hour limit on weekly working hours

Under this proposal, a maximum of 52 hours work per week, including overtime, would be set. Currently, there is confusion over whether hours of work performed on weekly days off are included in the calculation of "weekly" working hours. The Government has also announced an intention to reduce the scope of the current industry-based overtime exceptions.

4. A designated a "family day" once a month

This move would involve workers getting off work two hours earlier on a Friday, with incentives to be given to companies and institutions that adopt flexible working hours.

5. Increase entitlements to paternity leave

The Government has also suggested that it may increase paternity leave entitlements from the current entitlement of five days (including three days of paid leave) to 14 days (including 10 days of paid leave). Childcare leave wage-replacement subsidies may also be increased to twice the current level for the first three months of childcare leave. Parents may also be able to use childcare leave for up to 6 months with increased leave subsidies (at twice the current level) if the leave begins immediately after the other parent's maternity leave or childcare leave.

6. Extending the substitute holiday system

At present, the substitute holiday system is only mandatory for civil servants, and employees of Government-Owned Corporations. The Government is proposing to extend this system, which would mean that if certain national holidays fall on a weekend, the following working day would become a holiday for both public and private employees.

7. Flexible working hours for parents of children under eight

This proposal would allow for a reduction in working hours from the regular eight hours to six hours per day, without any pay cut, for up to 24 months for parents of children under the age of eight.

Support for flexible work arrangements

Although the above-proposed Government initiatives are not yet in force, Korea has been making increased efforts to battle the country's culture of working long hours. Already in 2017, the Korean Government has introduced various schemes to encourage companies to support flexible work arrangements.

In particular, small and medium enterprises introducing flexible work arrangements (such as flexitime, working from home and teleworking) are now able to claim a subsidy of up to KRW5.2 million per employee per year for up to 30% of the number of insured employees (not exceeding a total of 70 employees).

The Ministry of Employment and Labor has also created a new telework infrastructure subsidy program that provides a maximum of KRW20 million to help companies with the cost of setting up the systems, facilities and equipment needed to introduce work-from-home and telework arrangements.

The Government is expected to announce further plans in relation to these new policies.

Key takeaways

As these proposals are in their infancy and there is limited detail regarding their implementation, employers will need to monitor their progress as substantial changes to employment practices and policies will be likely if the proposals are passed into law.