Japan Press Weekly
[Advanced search]
Past issues
Special issues
Fact Box
Feature Articles
Mail to editor
Mail magazine
HOME  > Past issues  > 2015 June 3 - 9  > Sony’s working hour rules show what Abe’s working hour reform will bring about
> List of Past issues
Bookmark and Share
2015 June 3 - 9 [LABOR]

Sony’s working hour rules show what Abe’s working hour reform will bring about

June 5, 2015
A 50-year-old man working at Sony’s Sendai Technology Center (Tagajo City, Miyagi Pref.) has suffered ill health and an abrupt demotion after working excessively long hours under a work hour system that the company says gives workers greater flexibility in their working hours.

The system is called the discretionary work system, one of the accepted working hour systems under the Labor Standards Law. It can be applied to workers doing certain types of jobs, such as managerial jobs and R&D jobs. Those workers are paid not by the actual hours worked but by the number of hours agreed upon with their employer to performe their jobs. Sony introduced this system 16 years ago.

A labor-management agreement which Sony concluded deems that workers subject to the system work 7.5 hours a day. Of 12,000 Sony workers, about 4,000 are working under this program.

In 2004, the Sony Sendai Technology Center (Sendai TEC) began using the system. The 50-year-old worker recalled, “Just after I started to work under this work system, the change in my working hours was minor.”

He was engaged in prototype manufacturing with his two colleagues until 2010. After the 2011 disaster, he was forced to shoulder heavier workloads and work longer than before as the company carried out a personnel-cut measure under the name of promotion of business efficiency. In April 2013, in addition to the prototype manufacturing job, he was assigned to a new job related to R&D. This resulted in a further increase in his working hours. His records showed that in 2014, he worked an average of 65 hours of overtime a month from May to December and that in July, in particular, the number of overtime hours reached 94 hours.

Such harsh working conditions gave him great health concern. He asked the Sendai TEC to cut his R&D work. While accepting his demand, the company unfairly lowered his job evaluation on the grounds that he failed to perform his job well in contrast to other Sony workers “working harder” than him. Those who “work harder” as Sony describes are doing more than 80 hours of overtime per month.

Data submitted by Sony to the Sony workers’ union Sendai branch (affiliated with the Japanese Electrical Electronic & Information Union) indicated that in 2014 between July and December, among the 4,000 Sony employees under the discretionary work system, 34 worked more than 100 hours of overtime, exceeding the government-set danger line for death from overwork, and another 34 worked more than 80 hours for three consecutive months.

The 50-year-old Sendai TEC worker has recently experienced severe palpitations and been advised by a doctor to refrain as much as possible from working excessively long hours.

Even under the discretionary labor system, workers are still entitled to receive extra pay for working late at night and in the early morning hours and on holidays.

The Sony union Sendai branch argued that although Sony paid the worker a monthly allowance of 100,000 yen as compensation for his overtime, it neglected to calculate the number of hours he worked during late nights, early mornings, and on holidays. It claimed that if his overtime were calculated properly, he would have received another 160,000 yen in overtime a month or more than 1.9 million yen in a year. The union requested the local labor bureau to investigate the company for violation of the Labor Standards Act.

In response to an Akahata inquiry, Sony denied the union’s argument and claim.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is now trying to introduce the so-called white-collar exemption system by saying that the aim of the system is to enable workers to receive wages in accordance with job performance regardless of hours worked. This means that under the system, workers will be unable to receive not only regular overtime but also any extra pay, including holiday pay. This is even more favorable for companies than the discretionary work system. The introduction of the white-collar exemption will enable corporations to use workers as long as they want.
> List of Past issues
  Copyright (c) Japan Press Service Co., Ltd. All right reserved