Labor Standards Law revised, unpaid work legalized

The bill to revise the Labor Standards Law to legalize longer working hours under insecure contracts was enacted after passage through the House of Councilors on June 27 by the majority votes from the three ruling parties, plus the Democratic and Liberal parties. The Japanese Communist and the Social Democratic parties voted against.

The adversely revised law extends the length of the contract period for part-timers and contract workers to three years from the present one year. For specialist personnel, the maximum duration of contract will be five years instead of the present three years. This enables companies to replace as many full-time workers as possible with low-paying contingent workers.

The revised law also widens the range of the "discretionary work system". No matter how long employees work, they will not be paid for hours that exceed the fixed hours agreed upon between employees and employers. The new labor law will destroy the conventional 8-hour day system and legalize unpaid overtime work.

However, the phrase "employers can dismiss employees" was eliminated from the initial draft and instead the bill applies brakes on free dismissals by stating that dismissal would be unacceptable "without objectively rational reasons and not in line with accepted social customs." The new law articulates for the first time that "abusive use of the rights to dismiss is prohibited", which has been an unofficial practice won by long-standing workers' struggles.

President of the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), Bannai Mitsuo, in his comment of June 27 emphasized that amid a storm of corporate restructuring, Zenroren unions would make efforts to get work rules to be established and block the revised law and the temporary workers law from being enforced in workplaces.

The Labor Lawyers Association of Japan on the same day issued an appeal calling for a strict watch on unjustifiable applications of the law and for adequate brakes to be applied to details of actual implementation decided by government authorities. (end)

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