Stop risking the lives of workers -- Akahata editorial, November 13 (excerpts)

The number of cases of workers' death or illness recognized as overwork is increasing faster than at any time in the past.

The number of applications for recognition of workers suffering from depression and other kinds of mental disorder caused by overwork and stress from work rose to 203 (including 69 suicides) from 148 in the same period last year. Forty-five cases were certified as work-related, which exceeds the number of last year.

These cases recognized as work-related are only the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 workers are falling victim to karoshi (death from overwork) every year.

Why is karoshi increasing so fast? The work environment is worsening as corporations seek larger profits through corporate restructuring that forces a smaller number of workers to take up heavier workloads.

In the last five years, 3.5 million regular (full-time) jobs were lost, resulting in overwork prevailing in the workplace. The percentage of male workers working more than 60 hours a week (3,620 hours a year) in large corporations jumped from 16 percent to 22 percent. Sixty hours of overtime is considered the borderline to karoshi.

In Japan, about 6.7 million workers are said to be on this borderline.

It is particularly important to note that mental illnesses caused by overwork and stress are on the rise.

As more companies adopt the performance-based wage system and the so-called discretionary work system while cutting jobs, an increasing number of workers are forced into fierce competition and work without work hour limits. The increasing use of personal computers and mobile phones does not allow workers to have a breathing-space at home or while commuting.

The Japan Business Federation (JBF or Nippon Keidanren) demands that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry review its circular instructing employers to limit overtime work to under 45 hours a month so as to prevent health risks from arising. Their claim is outrageous and anachronistic.

The government is considering allowing the so-called discretionary work system, which is a source of increasing karoshi, to be introduced in more categories of work. It is also calling for work hour regulations on white collar workers to be eased. This is opposite to efforts to prevent karoshi. These plans should be retracted.

The Industrial Safety and Health Law stipulates that a corporation is obliged to secure the safety and health for its employees. A Supreme Court ruling on the suicide case of a Dentsu employee has established the requirement for corporate responsibility to protect workers' health.

We demand that corporations and the government control excessive workloads, and that they position personnel in a manner that respects employees' human dignity. (end)

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