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2014 February 12 - 18 [LABOR]

Bus drivers work under tough conditions

February 12&15, 2014
Japanese Communist Party member of the House of Councilors Tatsumi Kotaro on February 14 met with a group of bus drivers at the Dietmembers’ office building to learn about a staff shortage and long work hours seriously affecting their working conditions and transportation safety.

Tatsumi found that many drivers are forced to work overtime to compensate for their low base pay in order to make ends meet. He said, “Their work conditions also threaten passengers’ safety.”

A worker of Hiroshima Electric Railway operating streetcars and buses said, “A few days ago, I heard that a driver broke into a cold sweat while on duty and lost control.”

A worker of Kanagawa Chuo Kotsu said, “I sometimes work 16 hours straight. I want my shift breaks guaranteed.”

A Hankyu Bus worker said, “I once worked 200 hours overtime in one month. The company actually received an administrative penalty for that. Some service offices of the company have a kind of power harassment room. We call it the punishment room.”

According to the transport ministry, about 1.2 million people now hold the license necessary for driving a bus, and that number is 200,000 less than 15 years ago. Likewise, the number of route bus drivers decreased to 80,000 in 2010, down 20,000 from its peak in 1975. Their annual working hours amount to 2,544 hours on average, about 400 hours more than that of other workers. In contrast, their average annual income (4.46 million yen) falls below the average of 5.3 million yen for male workers in all industries.

The Japan Bus Association admits to the fact that the industry’s harsh working conditions are “contributing to the difficulty in securing adequate human resources”.

Excessive deregulation implemented in 2002 by the then prime minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro allowed the entry of new businesses into the industry, causing many operator split-ups and an intense survival race. Since then, the number of route bus operators has continued to increase. On the other hand, the amount of operating earnings has been on the decrease.

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A driver in his 50s working for a major bus operator in Tokyo told Akahata on February 12 about the actual conditions at his workplace. He said, “The company has a system to have unlicensed workers go to driving schools under company expense, but it is still far from the number of drivers we need. So, we have to work overtime. If not, we will receive low evaluations that will affect the amount of bonus we receive.”

This driver added, “I have often dozed off at the wheel from lack of sleep. It’s been like an accident or a death from overwork. Accidents large and small happen almost every day.”

A driver in his 30s working for a medium size bus operator said that his take-home monthly income is around 200,000 yen. The company treats him as if he is a convenience-store clerk, and he complained, “I sometimes have to drive four or five consecutive hours without taking a bathroom break.”
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