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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 April 17 - 23  > Corporations driving workers to ‘karoshi’ certified as worker-friendly by Labor Minister
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2019 April 17 - 23 [LABOR]

Corporations driving workers to ‘karoshi’ certified as worker-friendly by Labor Minister

April 19, 2019

Among those certified by the Labor Minister as model companies in reducing work hours include two major companies where deaths from overwork took place in recent years, Akahata reported on April 19. This poses a serious question on the legitimacy of certification system.

Under the Labor Ministry’s system, companies can apply for certification of parent-friendly companies if they have programs to support child-rearing employees, such as a measure to shorten working hours. Certified companies are allowed to place a special label in their recruitment ads, their products, and so on which improves the corporate image. They are also able to receive favorable tax treatment.

However, in March, it came to light that at the major telecommunication company KDDI, a certified company since 2009, a worker committed suicide after excessive overwork in 2015 and his death was officially recognized as work-related in 2018. In addition, the company was recently found to have paid a total of 670 million yen to 4,613 employees in back pay for unpaid overtime. Nevertheless, the Labor Ministry on its website praises this corporation for introducing a work-interval system.

Furthermore, at Japan’s leading general contracting company Obayashi Corporation, another certified company, a male employee died after working excessively long hours. This employee in May 2018 died of subarachnoid hemorrhage during a business trip to Laos. His death was recognized as work-related in March this year. The number of overtime hours he worked in the month just before his death stood at 188, far exceeding the 100-hour limit, the government-set danger line for death from overwork (karoshi).

According to the guidelines for the “parent-friendly company” certification system, certification is not given to companies which committed a serious violation of labor laws or whose employees work more than 60 hours of overtime a month. KDDI and Obayashi appear to fail to meet these criteria, but their certificates have yet to be retracted.

A few years ago, the certification system came under fire after an overwork-induced suicide by an employee of the leading advertisement agency Dentsu, also a certified company. As a result, the criterion about the number of overtime hours was added to the guidelines in April 2017. However, this is criticized as toothless as the Labor Ministry does not verify the number of overtime hours worked that companies declare.

Past related articles:
> Labor bureau instructs major delivery company to stop wage theft [November 17, 2016]
> Former Labor Minister apologizes for certifying Dentsu as ‘worker-friendly’ company [October 31, 2016]

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