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HOME  > Past issues  > 2014 September 17 - 23  > Give up introducing ‘zero-overtime-pay’ system
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2014 September 17 - 23 [LABOR]

Give up introducing ‘zero-overtime-pay’ system

September 18, 2014
Akahata editorial (excerpts)

The Labor Policy Council, an advisory body to the labor minister, has resumed discussions on the introduction of a new working system under which workers are evaluated by their performance, not by hours worked. This move is in line with the economic growth strategy which Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s government revised in June. The government is aiming to submit related bills to the Diet next year.

The current eight-hour work day system is one of the fruits of longtime struggles by workers around the world. The first May Day rally, held in Chicago in 1886, put up the slogan: Establish an eight-hour-day labor system! Japan’s Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from having workers work more than eight hours a day, more than 40 hours a week. If employers have workers work overtime, they have to pay extra wages to workers.

Japan’s business circles and large corporations have repeatedly tried to destroy this eight-hour-day work system and introduce a new system which allows them to force workers to work overtime without pay. In 2006, responding to the financial circles’ demand, the first Abe administration planned to create the so-called “white-collar exemption” scheme, which was intended to legalize forcing unpaid overtime on white-collar workers. Faced with strong opposition from trade unions, the government gave up the plan in the end.

The government-proposed “new working hours system” which enables employers to pay by merit not the number of hours worked is a replay of PM Abe’s previous abortive attempt to introduce a “zero-overtime-pay” scheme. The new system will reportedly be applied only to workers who earn above a “certain amount of income”, at least 10 million yen a year, and are “assigned to specific job duties with high skills”. However, many are concerned that once the system is introduced, its scope could be widened indefinitely.

Following the Prime Minister’s growth strategy, a tripartite sub-committee of the Labor Policy Council has resumed discussions regarding the new work-hour system. During the sub-committee discussions, in which experts, labor, and management took part, the labor side has been voicing opposition to the new system, saying, “Why are high income earners exempted from the work-hour regulations?” and “The new system will authorize excessively long working hours and heavy workloads.”

Tighten regulations on working hours

Japanese workers are already working longer than other nations’ workers. There is no end to unpaid overtime work and the so-called black corporations’ sweatshop-like working conditions which have caused death from overwork. To relax regulations on long working hours means allowing the continuance of these lawless labor practices.

It is a loss to the overall health of society when more and more workers feel worn out and lose their health due to long working hours and die from overwork (karoshi).

The pressing need is for the government to tighten work-hour regulations and monitor compliance with them instead of easing the regulations, and work to eliminate extraordinarily long working hours.
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