- Conservative Yoon Suk-youl of the People Power Party won South Korea’s presidential election on Wednesday.
- He had previously criticized a 52-hour workweek policy and said workers should be able to work 120 hours.
- Yoon made a series of controversial comments on his campaign trail.
South Korea has been trying to put an end to chronic overwork — but the country’s incoming president has in the past appeared to push for even longer work hours.
Conservative Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party won South Korea’s presidential election on Wednesday. In July, Yoon criticized outgoing President Moon Jae-in’s policy to promote better work-life balance. Moon’s policy limits the hours people can work to 52 hours a week — that’s 40 hours a week, plus another 12 hours of overtime.
Yoon said the system should allow for more flexibility, as some workers — such as game developers — may need to work longer hours during peak periods before going on an extended break.
“Workers should be allowed to work 120 hours a week and then take a good rest,” he said, according to the Korea Times. His suggestion of 120 hours a week is the equivalent of five 24-hour days.
The average South Korean worker worked 1,908 hours in 2020 (36.69 hours a week), according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD.) That’s one of highest hours-worked totals across the 38-country economic organization, behind only Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia. In the US, for comparison, the average worker put in 1,767 hours of work in 2020 (33.98 hours a week).
Although South Korea’s working hours in 2020 looked punishing, they were down from 1,967 hours in 2019 and 2,106 hours in 2013, per OECD data.
South Korea is known for its hard-driving work culture. Workplace traditions such as long hours and weekend work are rife — even at startups. There have also been reports of delivery workers who have died from overwork.
Insider was not immediately able to reach Yoon or his representative for comment.
A series of controversial statements
Yoon’s comments on the length of the workweek didn’t sit well with many.
“If a person works 120 hours a week, he will die,” said a spokesperson of Yoon’s presidential rival, Lee Jae-myung from the Democratic Party, the Korea Herald reported in July.
Yoon later said his comments were misinterpreted.
“What kind of a dictator would make people work 120 hours a week? That’s nonsense,” he said, per the Korea Herald. “I heard that people on the political opposite side from me distorted what I said as if I said we should work 120 hours. It’s not worth any attention.”
Yoon has made other controversial comments on his campaign trail, including one in which he appeared to disparage Africa.
“Companies depend on internationally competitive technology. There is no such thing as hands and feet labor like people used to do anymore. India doesn’t even do that anymore. It’s something only a place like Africa still does,” said Yoon during a meeting with university students in September, the Korea Times reported.
He has also suggested that feminism is responsible for the country’s abysmal birth rate. South Korea has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world at 0.81 births per woman in 2021, according to the Korea Herald, citing official data. The US total fertility rate was 1.64 in 2020, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
“Some say feminism is too politically exploited [to the point] it prevents healthy relationships between men and women,” Yoon said, according to the UPI. “From a social standpoint, the conditions are ill-suited for having and raising children. This is not a problem that can be solved by giving out government subsidies.”