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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 October 18 - 24  > ‘Work-style reform’ to protect workers from ‘karoshi’ is necessary
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2017 October 18 - 24 [LABOR]

‘Work-style reform’ to protect workers from ‘karoshi’ is necessary

October 23, 2017
Akahata editorial (excerpts)

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on October 6 published its white paper on prevention of death from overwork (karoshi). This is the second white paper since the law on preventive measures against karoshi was established in 2014.

The annual report indicates that more and more workers experienced health problems and even died from excessively hard workloads. In FY 2016, the number of claims for workers’ compensation for brain and heart illnesses increased by 30 from the previous report to 825. Among them, 260 claims, including 107 made by bereaved families, were accepted.

As for mental illnesses, claims rose by 71 from the previous year, for a total of 1,586. Of them, 498 claims were certified as work-related, 26 more than in the first report. In addition, in FY 2016, the labor ministry recognized 84 suicides which include suicide attempts as being caused by overwork. Among recognized suicides, 23% were committed by workers under 29 years old.

It is widely understood that an excessive workload is the major factor for “karoshi”. Japan’s labor laws enable employers to use their employees with no time restrictions if they conclude a labor-management agreement. In Europe, however, the EU directive limits the working week to 48 hours and stipulates that workers must have a consecutive 11-hour interval between the end of a day’s work and the beginning of the next day’s work.

The Prime Minister Abe Shinzo-led government in September drew up a package of bills regarding “work-style reform” under the guise of addressing long working hours.

In the package, the government plans to set an upper limit on overtime at 100 hours a month or an average of 80 hours over a period of two to six months. These figures, however, are currently used by the Labor Ministry as its official recognition of overwork-induced deaths.

On top of that, the package includes a bill to introduce the so-called white-collar exemption system which excludes workers whose jobs require a high level of professional knowledge and skills from the overtime rules. The package also seeks to increase the number of job categories subject to the “discretionary work system” under which workers are “deemed” to have worked for the number of hours agreed upon between labor and management and are not paid for overtime. These bills will only help corporations avoid fulfilling their responsibility to provide healthy working conditions.

In order to protect workers from “karoshi”, the need now is to revise the Labor Standards Act to one which contains clauses restricting overtime to 15 hours a week, 45 hours a month, and 360 hours a year, guaranteeing 11 consecutive hours of rest between periods of working time, and imposing on employers tighter work hour rules, such as an increase in penalty rates for overtime and a penal obligation to record working time.

Past related articles:
> Labor ministry’s panel begins discussing relaxation of working hour rules [September 9, 2017]
> JCP talks with bereaved families about ways to eliminate deaths from overwork [April 12, 2017]
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