South Korea’s National Assembly has passed a bill aimed at shortening working hours despite businesses’ concerns about increased labour costs.

Considered one of the most overworked countries in Asia, South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in has passed a bill to reduce the typical work week in an effort to improve quality of life and boost employment.

The new 52-hour work week, cut down from 68 hours, is intended to help improve quality of life and boost birth rates,  which hit record lows last year.

The law comes into force in July and will apply to large companies before being rolled out to smaller businesses.

It will be applied to companies with 300 or more workers on July 1, while firms with 50 to 299 workers and those with five to 49 workers will be subject to the new rule starting Jan. 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, respectively.

President Moon Jae-in also secured a 16 per cent increase in the minimum wage this year.

The law faced opposition from businesses but was seen as necessary to improve living standards, create more jobs and boost productivity. It is also aimed at increasing the country’s birth rate, which hit record lows last year.

The working hours under the revision comprise 40 hours a week and up to 12 hours for overtime work. Under the current rule, a worker can be expected to labor for a maximum of 68 hours, including up to 16 hours on the weekend.

South Koreans workers have some of the longest weeks among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, behind only Mexico. The group of mostly developed economies does not include countries such as China and India, and developing countries tend to work more.

But South Koreans still work about 400 more hours a year compared with workers in the UK and Australia, about 10 additional standard work weeks, despite having relatively similar average incomes.