Constitutional right to decent work -- Akahata editorial, August 24

An eight-hour work day is a commonplace rule of the day. However, it has only about a 50-year history in Japan. In the prewar period, the number of working hours in a day for women and minors was 11 hours, while it was unlimited for general workers. Today we see moves under way to undermine the legal regulations on working hours, but the need is now for the people's right to decent work to be established and to prevail.

In the prewar Japan that started the war of aggression against other Asian countries, workers had to work for low wages with abnormally long working hours. They were virtually deprived of worker rights because the trade union movement was severely suppressed.

Constitutional right to live and work

As a landmark step, the postwar Constitution guarantees workers' right to work. Article 25 guarantees all people the right to maintain a decent living and Article 27 guarantees people who are capable of and willing to work the right to get jobs. Article 28 guarantees the right of workers to organize trade unions and to bargain with their employees, and to act collectively, including going on strike.

Guarantees of worker rights are indispensable not only for improving working conditions for workers but also for preventing the revival of a despotic government and promoting democratization. To establish the international standards of an 8-hour work day, a weekly holiday, and annual paid holidays was necessary for Japan to return to the international community (Ministry of Labor: Document on history of labor movement).

The Labor Standards Law, designed to protect workers, obliges companies to guarantee and maintain the minimum standards of decent working conditions, prohibits undue discrimination, and establishes the principle of equal pay for equal work between men and women. On the other hand, the law has a major flaw in that it fails to stipulate the upper limit for the number of hours worked overtime.

In 1950, in Germany, another defeated nation in WW II, more hours were worked by a worker a year than in Japan. Later, moves for cutting working hours rapidly progressed in European countries, leaving Japan far behind. Today, an average Japanese worker works 400 hours a year more than his or her German counterparts.

What has brought about the Japanese setback? Large corporations in Japan, which stand out in their greedy behavior, impose long working hours on workers to ensure high profitability, and the government has encouraged this move.

Frequent occurrences of deaths from overwork (karoshi) and widespread practices of unpaid overtime work are typical examples that show how aberrant working conditions are in Japan. But the government neglects to improve such bad working conditions and even continues to break rules regarding labor. In particular, a system to exclude white-collar workers from control of working hours, which business organizations desire, can't be allowed to be introduced as it will be a step back toward unlimited work conducted during the 19th century.

Rights of workers have been seriously disregarded. The number of unemployed has exceeded 3 million, and that of part-time, temporary and contract workers has increased to 15 million. Expendable workers paid only one or two million yen a year, unable to support themselves, are threatened with the denial of the right to live. How can the government justify their stance, not guaranteeing labor rights?

In prewar years, unlawful corralling of workers and skimming of workers' wages were prevalent. After the last war, in order to prevent these illegal practices, direct employment of workers by corporations was established as a principle and staffing services were prohibited.

Establish rules for labor

But today, staffing services have been authorized by law even in the manufacturing industry, and the contract business of staffing remains unchecked. Contract workers without any labor rights are forced to work 12-hour shifts day and night.

Japan, in accordance with the principles of the Constitution, should pave the way toward a society which would guarantee working practices in a humane and dignified manner, instead of the one where workers are exploited to death and made into disposables.

Let's try to eliminate the illegal practice of unpaid overtime work, stipulate a limit to overtime work, and establish rules for work including equitable treatment and removal of discrimination against contingency workers. (end)

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