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Korea’s two largest conglomerates, Samsung and SK, float controversial six-day workweek

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Samsung and SK, Korea’s two largest conglomerates, have encouraged their executive-level employees to work on weekends in a disputed move that have triggered fears of ripple effects on other companies and lower ranks.

It is not unheard of for executives, most of whom are employed with short-term contracts, to work through Saturday or Sunday when necessary, but the overt demands that high-level employees adopt an official six-day workweek have nevertheless sparked controversy.

SK’s recurring C-suite meetings, previously scheduled on one weekday per month, will now take place on two Saturdays per month as the group faces a multitude of perceived challenges to its business amid current economic and geopolitical conditions.

The logo of Samsung Electronics is seen at its office building in Seoul, South Korea. [REUTERS]

The schedule change is forcing some workers, both in and outside of the C-suite, to toil for six days.

“Since the beginning of the year, some business meetings for C-level executives are set on Saturdays,” said an SK Group insider who wished to remain anonymous.

“Some regular employees in nonexecutive roles are unavoidably forced to work on the weekends as they have to prepare reports or documents ordered from executives.”

Most higher-level workers are not entitled to overtime pay because they are categorized as employers under Korea’s labor law.

Samsung affiliates including Samsung Electronics, Samsung C&T, Samsung SDS and Samsung Display have formally requested that their executives choose an extra workday and show up to their offices on either Saturday or Sunday.

The six-day orders were handed down via various channels including email, messaging platforms and in-person discussion, multiple executives at Samsung affiliates confirmed.

“Before, the six-day workweek was common division by division or company by company,” one higher-up said. “What is notable is that Samsung has made it regular every week.”

But not all Samsung companies called the same protocol; some financial affiliates remain excluded.

“We sometimes work on the weekend when needed, but we haven’t been notified or received a formal request from the company to work every weekend,” said an executive at Samsung Life Insurance.

Samsung’s C-suites were warned not to ask lower-ranked employees to turn up on weekends. Nevertheless, some employees expressed concern that the decision could push nonexecutives to work overtime.

“It is hard to strictly divide the work flow between the bosses and members of a division,” said a spokesperson for the National Samsung Electronics Union, Samsung Electronics’ largest labor union.

“For now, we don’t have any plan to conduct collective action but will keep tabs on the matter going forward,” the spokesperson said.

Hyundai Motor Group and LG Group, two of Korea’s four major conglomerates, said they neither have a six-day workweek in place nor plan to implement one at the current stage.

BY PARK EUN-JEE, SARAH CHEA [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]