Moves to cut overtime wages by lifting regulations set for white collar workers
Akahata editorial

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research group has begun to study a system that excludes white collar workers from working hour regulations on the grounds that flexibility needs to be applied to "self-managed" work styles.

The Labor Standards Law provides the 8-hour day and the 40-hour week. Workers who work extra hours are entitled to overtime pay. If this regulation is lifted, workers will be forced to work as many extra hours as possible without pay if they are regarded as managing work for themselves.

Unusual working conditions create 'karoshi'

The government in its 3-year plan for the promotion of deregulation and privatization has called for the exclusion of white collar workers based on a study of cases in other countries. The research group published its study on May 20.

It found out that among the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany, only the U.S. extensively excludes white collar workers from working hour regulations.

In the U.S., managerial workers, office workers, and professionals are not protected by the working hour regulations if their salary is more than 455 dollars a week. If Japan adopts this system, most white collar workers will be included in this category.

Unpaid overtime work is a major issue in the U.S. today, and the number of unpaid overtime work lawsuits has increased rapidly. Labor unions criticize last year's change of overtime rules under the Bush administration as a measure that will leave 6 million workers without overtime pay because it has broadened the scope of exemption from overtime regulations.

How absurd it is for Japan to adopt this uniquely explotative U.S. system!

In the U.S., workers are entitled to claim not only unpaid overtime pay but the same amount of money in compensation for employers' violations of the laws. The Department of Labor can order employers to pay penalties for violating the labor laws or can file a lawsuit for workers demanding extra pay for overtime work.

In Japan, when a company violates the law, it may be ordered to pay for the overtime worked but it will not be subject to a penalty. The reality is that "the mechanism for the strict implementation of work rules is weaker than that in the United States," the report says.

U.S. white-collar workers work long hours but do not fail to take days off.

They would rather look for a new job if they are forced to work in a way that may lead to death from overwork (Karoshi). This is why "employers cannot force excessive workloads on employees because of the need to secure a necessary workforce," says the report. In Japan "quitting jobs is not an option for escape from long hours of work," the report points out. This shows that easing regulations on working hours will have an adverse effect on the workplace.

In the United States, "measures for the maintenance of the health" of workers are mandated, and "self-responsibility for health" is the principle. Japanese companies are required to take care of workers' health and safety. Excluding white-collar workers from regulations on working hours will force workers to assume "self-responsibility" for their health. It will only help increase the number of karoshi or suicides due to excessive workloads.

Exclusion of white-collar workers from the regulation on working hours is being considered to meet business circles' demands. The business sector, in particular the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), has a repugnance for stronger administrative supervision concerning working hours. It calls for white-collar workers to be exempted from working hour regulations to deprive workers of their overtime wages, legalizing unpaid overtime work.

Thus, the corporate sector seeks to force excessive workloads on workers without regard for the danger of death from overwork, and avoid fulfilling the minimum duty to pay for overtime work as well as taking care of their health and safety. This is tantamount to totally abandoning corporate social responsibility.

Eradicate unpaid overtime work!

Business circles' behavior that disregards the laws concerned is unjustifiable. At a time when jobs are performed in "a variety of ways," it is important to appropriately control white-collar workers' hours of work, eradicate unpaid overtime work, and strengthen regulations on overwork to establish a humane workplace. - Akahata, May 25, 2005

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