The average hours worked per capita at companies with at least five employees fell 0.9 percent last year to 1,792, slipping below 1,800 for the first time since 1990, when comparable data was first kept, the government said Tuesday.
It was the second straight year the average has fallen and mainly reflects a 2.7 percent fall in average overtime, to 129 hours.
The drop was due to substantial production cuts in the manufacturing sector amid the global recession, according to a preliminary survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
Per capita hours slumped as business operations were his particularly hard by the economic slump in the second half of the year, a ministry official said.
The government had set a goal of curtailing annual working hours per employee to 1,800 to improve labor conditions to levels seen in the United States and Europe.
In 1990, for example, Japanese workers averaged 2,064 hours per employee, according to the ministry.
The campaign to cut working hours began in the latter half of the 1980s and continued until a few years ago. The average began falling after the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s.
Excluding overtime hours, average hours worked in 2008 inched down 0.8 percent to 1,663.
Average monthly wages at these companies increased 0.3 percent to ¥331,026 for the first rise in two years, reflecting a 1.5 percent fall in unscheduled pay, including overtime pay, and a 0.5 percent gain in scheduled pay, such as basic salary.
Inflation-adjusted real average wages dropped 1.3 percent for the third straight year of decline.