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HOME  > Past issues  > 2012 June 27 - July 3  > Harsh working conditions for chartered-bus drivers
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2012 June 27 - July 3 [LABOR]

Harsh working conditions for chartered-bus drivers

June 28, 2012
Working conditions for tour-bus drivers are very harsh. Some drivers drive chartered buses as “day laborers” in violation of the Road Transportation Act, and some drive trucks during the day and switch to working as midnight bus drivers at night.

Kikuchi Kazuhiko, a deputy secretary-general of the All-Japan Federation of Automobile Transport Workers’ Union (Jiko-soren) composed of taxi and bus drivers, attributes the 2000 deregulation to the deterioration in working conditions. The deregulation facilitated the entry of newcomers into the industry and lifted restrictions on the setting of bus fares.

The number of chartered-bus operators, mainly small-scale enterprises, has doubled over the last decade. They compete with each other to offer cheaper fares.

Travel agents as organizers of bus tours have overwhelming power, an influence over the bus industry. Without considering the safety of transportation, they force bus operators to lower their prices.

Drivers are the ones who end up suffering from the decreased costs for low-budget tours. Their wages decrease and their working conditions get worse. They earned 3.86 million yen in wages in 2009, down 1.52 million yen from 1999. Chartered-bus drivers work 2,364 hours a year as of 2008, far surpassing the average 1,792 hours of all workers.

One-day bus trips organized by major travel agencies are normally on a tight schedule, also forcing drivers to work long hours.

Many advertisements for bus tours appear on the Internet and in newspapers to attract tourists. A one-day tour, for example, leaves Tokyo at 7:00 in the morning, travels around Yamagata (approx. 400 km each way), and returns at around 11:00 at night with just one driver on board.

Kikuchi of the Jiko-soren says, “With this schedule, a driver would have to be at work at 5:00 in the morning and would clock out about 1:00 the next morning. This driver’s on-duty hours would exceed the labor ministry-set maximum of 16 hours.”

Under these circumstances, the number of accidents caused by drivers’ weakened health conditions increased to 39 in 2010 from 18 in 2002. As of 2010, the rate of death from overwork, so-called “karoshi”, among bus and taxi drivers is 5.8 times higher than the rate for all workers.

The Jiko-soren secretary points out that the working conditions of drivers should be improved to ensure the safety of passengers. He said, “It is essential to reinforce the regulations to have travel agencies pay fair prices to bus operators and have them comply with the labor ministry-set standards and relevant laws which include the Labor Standards Act.”
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