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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 October 16 - 21  > Gov’t plan to introduce variable working hour system will not reduce teachers’ excessively long working hours: expert
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2019 October 16 - 21 [LABOR]

Gov’t plan to introduce variable working hour system will not reduce teachers’ excessively long working hours: expert

October 18, 2019

The Abe government plans to enact a bill to introduce the variable working hour system in public schools in the current Diet session under the pretext of tackling the issue of teachers’ excessively long working hours. Teachers and labor experts, however, have been raising their voices in opposition to this move.

The variable working hour system is one of the acceptable flexible work schedules permitted under the Labor Standards Act. It allows employers to require their workers to work more than eight hours a day only during a busy season as long as the weekly average is 40 hours. It also allows the extension of working hours up to 10 hours a day and 52 hours a week. In addition, it sets the overtime cap of 45 hours a month and 320 hours a year. Currently, this work system is applicable only to factory workers and workers in industries whose business fluctuates seasonally.

The Labor Ministry in its notification and guidelines states that the use of the variable working hour system will be allowed on the condition that workers do not work overtime on a regular basis. The ministry also states that it is obvious that the system is not applicable to workers whose work schedule changes frequently according to the specific job situation.

An Education Ministry survey shows that public school teachers every day work three hours longer than the legal hours. In addition, they are routinely forced to work overtime due to various reasons such as supervision of after-school clubs and response to incidents of school bullying. In the 2016 data of the Education Ministry, about 60% of public junior high school teachers and about 30% of public elementary school teachers work more than 80 hours of overtime on a monthly basis, the government-set danger line for death from overwork.

The head of Japan’s largest academic association in the field of education, the Japanese Educational Research Association (JERA), Hirota Teruyuki criticized the government plan as being useless in reducing working hours of public-school teachers. The JERA president stressed that the only way to solve the issue of overworked teachers is to implement measures to lighten their workloads and increase the number of teachers.

Senior principal researcher at the Ohara Memorial Institute for Science of Labour (ISL) Sasaki Tsukasa noted that the variable working hour system is often criticized for undermining the 8-hour day principle and for causing damage to workers’ health. He said that the introduction of such a labor system will increase the risk for overwork-induced brain and heart diseases.

Past related articles:
> OECD survey finds teachers in Japan work longer than those in any other country [June 21, 2019]
> Teachers exhausted from excessive workloads and long working hours [June 28, 2017]
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