State institutes ill-prepared for shorter workweek
Concerns are growing over whether state-run think tanks are ready to adopt a shorter workweek as they are required by law to reduce their maximum working hours from 68 to 52, beginning Oct. 1.
Most of them have yet to finalize how to reorganize their workforce, with lingering concerns that the working hours reduction could undermine the competitiveness of research-intensive bodies that should prioritize prompt, task-driven government policy reviews, an opposition lawmaker said Sunday.
According to data submitted to Rep. Sung Il-jong of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, among 26 state-run think tanks supervised by the National Research Center for Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences (NRC), only three have reached an agreement on a new workweek.
They are the Korea Institute of Public Administration, Korean Institute of Criminology and Korea Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management.
Discussion is ongoing between management and unions at the remaining 23 organizations over whether to implement “flexible” working hours, a move to give workers more discretion on when to come to or leave work.
All of them have yet to revise their work contracts, leaving any management-union agreement elusive.
No consensus has been reached on whether to allow workers to take holidays for extra weekday work, and whether coming to work for five full days from Monday through Friday should be scrapped as long as they work a 52 hour per week.
Rep. Sung criticized the mandatory implementation of one of the signature economic policies of the Moon Jae-in administration, citing a lack of flexibility.
“The 52-hour workweek was introduced to help reduce working hours, thereby helping create more new jobs. But given the status quo, the law taking effect will not help the policy achieve its goal, not to mention the efficacy of state think tanks being undermined, with taxpayers’ money squandered in the process,” Sung said.
Yun Chang-hyun, an economist at the University of Seoul said asking people to blindly follow a law with obvious drawbacks was not how a government should be run.
“It makes no sense,” Yun said. “Research institutes are not manufacturers. Their work cannot be quantified as easily as manufacturers that have no choice but to halt production once machines are turned off.”
Feasibility reviews, consulting work and studies concerning pressing government policy issues should be carried out in a manner that is fast, accurate and comprehensive, which is more qualitative work not quantitative, Yun added.
“Different rules are needed for different sectors. It is a shame that the government does not see that,” he said.
The NRC is expected to make recommendations to government ministries on ways to help improve the new policy implementation following the findings of an independent study commissioned by the Korea Labor Institute, in late September.