Tired Koreans unconvinced by proposed new labor law

STORY: This is a ‘nap café’ in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, where overworked people can have a rest.

Park Sang-seon sometimes sneaks away from his office to spend his lunch break here

"I usually take a catnap during lunch time. I can't get enough sleep as I need to take care of my work, relationship, and personal life. So, I take this time to sleep."

More than 18% of South Koreans worked more than 50 hours a week in 2021,

according to unpublished data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The South Korean government is set to announce a labour reform bill next month

which it hopes will give some flexibility to its workforce and encourage people to have children.

But not many are convinced that their work-life balance will change for the better.

Under the new bill, workers will be able to choose how much overtime work they can take on either a weekly, monthly or even a yearly basis.

The government also says Workers can bank the overtime hours in exchange for time off.

It’s a departure from the 52-hour workweek that was enacted in 2018 in hopes of improving the quality of life.

The government believes workers will end up working less in the end,

but it also means that people can work up to 69 hours in one week every month.

Some workers, like 27-year-old Albert Kim, say the proposal ignores a lot of the cultural and social nuances of work in the East Asian nation.

"if it's 6 p.m., you don't just run out the door. You kind of carefully put on your clothes and make sure you watch what your co-workers are doing, so you're not the one leaving while everyone's still working. And that's kind of part of the reason why it's going to be a problem to implement this new labour reform bill, because that still exists."

South Korea is facing a demographic crisis.

It already has one of the lowest fertility rate in the world, and a rapidly ageing population.

Government data shows the working-age population peaked at 38 million in 2019,

and is set to drop by more than 9 million by 2040.