S.Korea has launched the 52-hour week

Good news for k-drama actors and staff.
Korea has passed a law, effective from July 1st, 2018, asking companies to make employees work less. Including the shooting of dramas and films. I suppose, less accidents will happen that way. Remember the unfortunate Hwayugi staff member who fell from the ladder and remained paralyzed, in December 2017? Incidents like that, as well as suicides and deaths by exhaustion may have been the trigger for the government to take that decision.

Can you believe it? We in Europe take as a given working 8 hours X 5 days = 40 hours per week, but in Korea it was 68 hours, and until a five-day work week was introduced in 2004, many South Koreans did not experience free Saturdays.
Until today the week had 68 hours, that is 13,6 per day. And now they are hailing as a revolution the 52-hour week, which still means 10,4 hours per day! CRAZY!
The 52 hours are supposed to be 40 hours, plus another 12 hour of overtime. Under the new act, employers will have to pay time and a half to employees for the additional 12 hours after 40 hours.
That’s why they drink theirselves to a stupor and they have such a high rate of suicides. And that’s why couples don’t have sex. Who has the energy, after such an exhausting day?

In entertainment, things were even worse:

The Union for Broadcast Workers, which was formed by freelance employees in the television industry after the new law went into effect earlier this month, said it received more than 30 complaints within the first two days. One employee, it said, worked from 7 am to 3 am and was asked to report to work at 7 am the following day.

And here is a shining example of compliance to standards even before the law was made:

The “howevers”…

However, the new work week is expected to prompt workers to demand their pay remain unchanged regardless of reduced work hours. The country’s two umbrella unions _ the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) _ sent guidelines to their branches to seek compensation for diverse allowances expected to be cut, advising members to demand no wage cuts.

Not everyone is thrilled about the change, however, as the same survey also showed 49.6 percent are either not interested or have little to no expectation. Many of them were also concerned about not getting paid overtime.
One Twitter user wrote, “I prefer a life where I earn good money than a life where I have an evening.”

The top court ruled last month that hours spent working on weekends and state-designated holidays should not be recognized as an extension of weekday work and therefore do not qualify as grounds for workers to seek extra pay. The ruling was largely considered to be business-friendly because it banned workers from demanding extra pay twice for the same hours which could be claimed as both weekend or other state-designated holiday shifts and overtime. Had the court allowed workers to claim extra pay twice for those hours, it would have resulted in a spike in lawsuits filed by union workers demanding due payment. The KCTU and FKTU both issued statements criticizing the court for making a ruling they claimed protects only the interests of large conglomerates.


“What surprises me most is “Man”, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present; The result being he doesn’t live in the present or the future; He lives as if he’s never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.
Dalai Lama


Thank you for the interesting articles. It should though be noted that even in places where the 40 hour work week is usual - e.g. USA - that the entertainment industry has a great many similar abuses in place. Crews work to exhaustion, driving home and falling asleep at the wheel often, sometimes with fatal consequences…the expectation is that “time is money” and lives…and safety fall by the wayside.

I have read that 16-hour days are the norm in many such shoots even in USA. Complain…and you’ll “never work in this town again” (Hollywood, naturally…).



It’s a good approach, thanks for posting, irmar.

Few days ago I read an article in which a comparison between Europe (especially Germany) and Asia (especially China) was made.

The one who was mostly quoted was an European economic expert who said that today, the new generation wants to work for enjoying life and not living for work (e.g. many here want a 4-day-week). He states that if this “attitude” continues Europe/Germany will drop behind the Asian nations and will - as final result - lose its status as wealthy hightech country.


For some branches, overtime hours are not that rare here. Depending on the job, it may cause accidents with severe consequences.

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China has a 9am-9pm, 6 days a week work system, last I read…I bet that doesn’t even cover the amount of time going to and from work. I can’t believe 52 hours is the reduced hour requirement! It’s one thing if a worker wants to take overtime, it’s another thing for that to be a requirement. What about the families? What about house chores? What about life?

OMG! 68 hours… when did they even have time to have a life?! And now with 52 hours it’s still pretty bad but i is a start. They really life to work… while it should be the other way around.

At my first real fulltime job I sometimes had to work 10 hours a day and 5 hours on saturday during the peak period which was about 2 months a year. When I worked 10 hours a day my life was like sleeping, eating, going to work, eating, sleep. I was too tired to even do anything when I got home and I couldn’t sleep properly because I was still working in my head. The company didn’t force us to work overtime but we where working in a team. And on saturdays we got 150% pay per hour and on weekdays everything above 45 hours was 150% pay too. And they provided extra snacks and dinner if we worked past 6 PM.

I heard that long work hours say nothing about the amount of work that has been done. Not so long ago (I believe) there was a study that people who had a good balance between work and life are working harder. And when you have a bit less time the productivity, efficiency and time management is better overall.


Although you weren’t speaking specifically about this, here is an answer on the impact of too much work:

Death by overwork

Another article about the work culture in South Korea:

Yes, you’re right, productivity has been found to drop after a number of hours. Remember at school, they always put math in the first couple of hours, because they know that by the end of the school day the brain is burned out.

There is a strong case for tackling the culture of long hours. Working more than 50 hours a week causes a drop in productivity, according to researchers at Stanford University, and there was little different in output for employees who worked between 56 and 70 hours.

Despite hardships faced by workers paid by the hour, office workers have rejoiced at the new law. Some have long complained of a culture that expected employees to stay late despite a lack of work. Others say bosses would routinely assign extra tasks outside normal hours, leading many employees to procrastinate all day since they knew they had to stay late regardless of workload.
(From the Guardian article)

Here is the study from Stanford University mentioned in the article. In short,

Observations on munition workers, most of them women, are organized to examine the relationship between their output and their working hours. The relationship is nonlinear: below an hours threshold, output is proportional to hours; above a threshold, output rises at a decreasing rate as hours increase. Implications of these results for the estimation of labor supply functions are taken up. The findings also link up with current research on the effects of long working hours on accidents and injuries


It hasn’t been rosy for everyone, though. Here are the problems some people face because of the salary cuts after the new law:

That wasn’t the case at my school. We often had Math in the last lesson, sometimes even the tests/exams.

I know one thing, I /we do love our dramas, but I sure don’t want my actors/actresses to “kill” themselves by over working. and what about those young kid actors? I hope this law will turn this around for a better safe environment!
and thanks for this update.


Yes when I had to work 10 hours a day I worked a bit slower overall and made sure I took my breaks properly. Needed to spread my energy better to stay focussed.

And in Korea next to overwork you are expected to go for a drink with your boss if he/she tells you too. So then you worked like 10+ hours and then you are expected to go drink afterwards too. And of course you are expected to drink alcohol.

I wonder how they do the breaks when they have long work hours.

In The Netherlands it’s like this:
Normal 8 hour work day is actually 8 hours and 30 minutes long.
Your lunchbreak of 30 minutes is your own time, unpaid, so you are free to leave work during that time.
Next to the lunch break you usually have 2 small breaks paid by the boss and are considered work time (10-15 minutes per break).
You are not allowed to work more then 5,5 hours without a 30 minutes break (or 2 of 15 minutes).


Sounds nice!

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In the USA for shooting television or movies, if the project is a “union job” there are strictly enforced (by the unions involved) rules. The 16 hour day is a norm but after 8 hours each day, there is automatically overtime – and depending on when the 40 hours of work in each week have been reached, the overtime is 150% to 200% of normal pay. There is also a rolling start for the work day so that the workers have at least 8 hours to sleep every day. So a movie might start shooting at 6 in the morning on Monday but because of the rolling start rule, by Friday, they start to work at 6 in the evening!!! It is not unusual for ordinary (not necessarily highly skilled) employees to make $500 US per day or $12000 per month.


On a K variety show a few years ago, there were entertainers living in the same big house and we would see “a day in the life of”. The Girl Group member and the boy band member usually got home at 2 or 3 in the morning and were picked up at 7 or 8 am for work again. They had no time to eat so the girl group member was seen eating a roll while she was sleeping – she always had food nearby. When they had the occasional day off they spent the entire time sleeping rather than going out with the housemates.

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I forgot the name but wasn’t that that variety show with Lee Dong Wook, Park Bom and I don’t remember the others?

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Yes - I watched it because Lee Dong Wook was in it. I think Chan from EXO was in it??