Like some other East Asian economies, South Korea has long been known for a highly demanding work culture that rewards long hours and measures employees’ commitment by how much overtime they are willing to work. The country is one of the hardest-working in the OECD, with South Koreans working an average of 2,069 hours in 2016, compared to 1,783 hours in the US and just 1,363 hours in Germany. That may start to change in the coming years thanks to a bill approved by the National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee last Tuesday, which cuts the maximum statutory working hours from 68 hours a week to 52, the Korea Times reported:
Slashing working hours was among the main election pledges of President Moon Jae-in, which he said will improve quality of life as well as help create jobs. However, fewer working hours means higher labor costs for businesses. According to an estimate by the Korea Economic Research Institute, businesses will pay an additional 12.1 trillion won annually to maintain current production while cutting the working hours. This includes wages paid to additional workers hired to cover the hours lost, as well as their training costs.
Roughly 40 percent of expatriate professionals working in Japan say they feel discriminated against at work on account of their nationality or gender, Chisato Tanaka writes for the Japan Times, citing a recent survey by Adecco Ltd.:
Responding to a multiple-answer question on what they do not like about working in Japan, 43 percent cited gender inequality. Around 40 percent said they have trouble with indirect or nonverbal communication with colleagues.
Asked how they see their Japanese colleagues’ performance, 80 percent said their Japanese peers are precise in their work. But 72 percent complained that there were too many pointless meetings. … According to the survey, 47 percent of respondents also felt they are not given equal opportunities compared with their Japanese colleagues.
Nonetheless, the survey found that 77 percent of respondents were satisfied with their current work conditions and 88 percent wanted to keep working in Japan.
South Korea’s government is taking steps to encourage more women to participate in the workforce, as the country faces an impending decline in its working-age population. Hooyeon Kim and Myungshin Cho recently examined the looming problem at Bloomberg:
With the nation’s workforce projected to begin a steady decline after peaking this year, the gap between the labor force participation rate for women (53.1 percent) and men (74.5 percent), looks like a critical weak point for the economy. Newly elected President Moon Jae-in acknowledged the issue when he urged parliament to approve his plan for an extra budget that includes training for women returning to work after maternity leave and funding to help women with start-up companies. …
The drop in the female participation rate is severe for women in their thirties as they marry and have children, and too few of them return to employment after family life settles down. “There are some real difficulties,” said Chung Hyun-back, who is Moon’s pick as Gender Equality Minister. The problem for women “comes from the difficulty of maintaining work-family balance.”
South Korea’s conundrum is similar to that of Japan, where women have historically been discouraged from pursuing professional careers and where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has launched a “womenomics” initiative to encourage businesses to hire more women and promote more of them into leadership positions. So far, however, womenomics has shown lackluster results, as Japanese work culture remains unfriendly to working women, especially those trying to balance having a career with raising a family: Long hours and presenteeism are the norm, while pregnant women are frequently discriminated against and parents face a shortage of available child care providers.
Millions of college students are graduating from China’s universities this year into a slowing economy where job prospects and starting salaries are on the decline, Bloomberg reported recently:
Monthly salaries plummeted 16 percent to 4,014 yuan ($590) this year for a second-straight annual decline, data from recruitment site Zhaopin.com show. The Ministry of Education estimates that 7.95 million will graduate this year, almost the population of Switzerland. China is losing competitiveness in lower-end industries from textiles to furniture as wages and other costs surge. Policy makers’ efforts to offset that by shifting the economy toward higher-technology industries and services — from aircraft and robots to research and development — may get a boost from an army of highly educated and low-paid graduates.
Downtown Sydney (LeoPatrizi /iStock)
While the prospect of Brexit and the Trump administration’s approach to immigration policy are seen by some as the main challenges to global labor mobility in the coming years, the US and UK aren’t the only countries trying to reduce their reliance on imported talent. On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull abruptly announced that his government was doing away with the 457 skilled worker visa (the Australian analogue to the US’s H-1B), and replacing it with a more restrictive program that limits the number of eligible occupations and raises the threshold to qualify, the Guardian reports:
“Australians must have priority for Australian jobs – so we’re abolishing the [class] 457 visas, the visas that bring temporary foreign workers into our country,” he said. “We’ll no longer let 457 visas be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians. It’s important that businesses still get access to the skills they need to grow and invest. So the 457 visa will be replaced by a new temporary visa specifically designed to recruit the best and the brightest in the national interest.”
Turnbull said the new visa would “better target genuine skills shortages” and would include new requirements such as previous work experience, better English-language proficiency and labour market testing. He said the government would establish “a new training fund” for Australians to fill skills gaps.
The number of 457 visa holders currently stands at 95,758, the Guardian adds, with nationals of India and the UK together making up over 40 percent of them. The guest workers are predominantly employed in IT, professional services, and various science and technology jobs. Human Capital delves into the details of the new scheme:
In countries with aging populations, many working-age people are saddled with the burden of caring for elderly parents or other relatives, putting pressure on their employers to help ease that burden. While organizations are becoming more aware of how elder care responsibilities affect their employees and are looking at new ways to help employees cope, Starbucks is breaking new ground in this area with a generous new benefit for its employees in China: health insurance for their parents. Bloomberg reports:
The new policy is a response to traditional values in China, the company said, as children often care for their parents and grandparents in a society that doesn’t have a comprehensive safety net for the elderly. The plan, covering 30 critical illnesses and some surgeries, will be available starting in June, Executive Chairman Howard Schultz said.
“This is the first time we’ve done anything like this, and the reason for that is that it was clear there was an emotionally driven concern among partners about their ability to take care of their parents,” Schultz said in an interview in Beijing. “I heard firsthand very emotionally driven, tragic stories about what’s taking place with the parents who got sick, and many passed away.”
Toward the end of 2015, the Indian government introduced legislation to increase the statutory amount of paid maternity leave employers must offer new mothers from 12 to 26 weeks for all organizations with more than 10 employees; winding its way slowly through the legislature, the bill was approved by the upper house of parliament in August and cleared its final legislative hurdle when the lower house passed it last Thursday, which as the Times of India notes will give India the world’s third largest paid leave mandate for new mothers, after Canada’s 50 weeks and Norway’s 44.
Mothers are eligible for the full 26 weeks’ leave only after adding the first two children to their family, however; women having a third child are entitled to only 12 weeks, as are those who become mothers through adoption or surrogacy. The bill also directs employers to offer work-from-home options to mothers on their staff if the nature of the work permits it, and mandates that enterprises with 50 or more employees provide access to creches or daycare facilities for working mothers.
The law does not address paternity leave, but the Times points out that the subject came up in the parliamentary debate over the bill, with some MPs arguing that it would put women at a disadvantage in the job market to make paid leave mandatory for mothers and not fathers, effectively discouraging employers from hiring women for fear of having to give them extra benefits: