The government will provide a one-year grace period on implementing the 52-hour workweek for small and mid-sized companies with fewer than 300 employees.
During the period, small companies will not be under government oversight over the implementation of the 52-hour workweek.
At the same time, the government will grant special extensions of work for cases like saving lives in emergency situations or for R&D purposes, on top of existing permissions like in the case of disasters.
"Additional reasons for worktime extension include safety urgent responses to emergency situations like sudden machine malfunctions or a temporary surge in workload that could affect business operations or cause huge losses."
The labor minister said the special grants will be applied to not just small businesses but to all companies in Korea.
The 52-hour workweek is one of President Moon Jae-in's campaign pledges as part of efforts to improve the work-life balance for laborers, tackle the low fertility rate and enhance productivity by cutting the number of maximum working hours from 68.
It went into effect in July 2018 for companies with more than 300 employees, with a six-month grace period, extended to nine months for exceptional cases.
The 52-hour workweek for smaller companies is currently scheduled to take effect next month.
Citing a loss in productivity and a possible increase in labor costs, more than half of all small and mid-sized companies said they are not ready for the 52-hour workweek, according to a survey by the Korea Federation of SMEs last October.
Following the government's announcement on Wednesday, business circles including the Korea Enterprises Federation said the government's measures will help companies cope with the 52-hour workweek, but said detailed measures that take into consideration differences across industries will be needed.
But labor groups criticized the announcement.
The Federation of Korean Trade Unions said increasing the number of exceptional cases to grant special worktime extensions violates basic rights and it vowed to file a constitutional appeal.
Kim Hyesung, Arirang News.