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Abe administration looks to reduce limits on overtime work

Kyodo

The government is considering reducing the upper limits of overtime allowed for workers as part of a push to overhaul Japan’s notoriously demanding labor culture.

In Japan, companies can ask employees to work up to 45 hours of overtime work per month, or up to 360 hours per year, in addition to the standard 40-hour work week if a labor-management agreement is in place.

Further extra work — up to 100 hours of overtime a month — is also available under a “special clause” agreed between management and workers and applied in exceptional cases.

However, under the proposed changes, the 100 hours a month would be lowered to an as-yet undecided limit, or a cap set on how many months in a year it can be applied.

Another option under consideration would reduce the 45 hours of overtime per month currently allowed.

The move, spearheaded by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is said to be in response to ongoing criticism of Japan’s notoriously long work hours.

The scheme is also expected to include a plan to improve nonregular workers’ pay.

But it is still unclear how the proposed labor reforms will take shape, and it is almost certain the business community will object to such government-led changes, observers said.

According to a survey by the labor ministry in 2013, 40.5 percent of 11,100 companies surveyed nationwide had the overtime clause in place. Of these, 15 percent said they allow more than 800 hours of overtime work per year.

The country’s work culture is blamed for hindering workers with children, who must struggle to balance work and home. Karoshi, or death from overwork, has long been a labor issue as well.

A final plan is expected to be announced in May.

  • Philosopher

    I thought Japan already had rules limits how many hours of overtime employees could work per month. It’s my understanding that those rules are flouted by many companies who keep two sets of timesheets, one with the real hours and a second fake set that make it look like they’re under the limits. Am I wrong?

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    No doubt this will be as successful as the P.M.’s urge that companies increase salaries. Wasn’t there also talk of “punishing” companies that didn’t? It is to laugh.

  • Stephen Kent

    I don’t think that government-led top down initiatives will bring any significant change in the number of working hours because in Japan, having the rules and ensuring they are followed are two very different things, more so than in many other places.

    If there is to be a significant and positive change in working hours, I feel it will have to involve a cultural shift by which it becomes OK to say “I’ll deal with that tomorrow” or “I’m sorry but I’ve got too much other work on at the moment” without being considered to be lacking in motivation or not providing a good service. Such a culture would force companies to operate more efficiently as they would no longer be able to rely on employees being at their beck and call every waking hour, and thus a situation that was more conducive to family life and lower stress might arise, but given the atomisation and timidity of the workforce in Japan I’m not holding my breath for big changes any time soon.

  • Stephen Kent

    I don’t think that government-led top down initiatives will bring any significant change in the number of working hours because in Japan, having the rules and ensuring they are followed are two very different things, more so than in many other places.

    If there is to be a significant and positive change in working hours, I feel it will have to involve a cultural shift by which it becomes OK to say “I’ll deal with that tomorrow” or “I’m sorry but I’ve got too much other work on at the moment” without being considered to be lacking in motivation or not providing a good service. Such a culture would force companies to operate more efficiently as they would no longer be able to rely on employees being at their beck and call every waking hour, and thus a situation that was more conducive to family life and lower stress might arise, but given the atomisation and timidity of the workforce in Japan I’m not holding my breath for big changes any time soon.

  • HappyBoy4

    This is ridiculous and obnoxiously meddlesome.
    Negotiation and mutual agreement between the worker and the employer should be the only thing that determines how long a given worker should work.
    Unless the government is prepared to reimburse the worker for time spent not earning, the employer for efficiency lost due to not having him around, or the customers for increased prices due to artificially decreased operational efficiency, government should just stay out of such purely voluntary arrangement of priorities.

  • Ron Lane

    More “feel good” empty messaging from the LDP in the run-up to July’s election. Sooner or later the electorate will catch on to this con [if they haven’t already] and vote accordingly.

  • Ron Lane

    More “feel good” empty messaging from the LDP in the run-up to July’s election. Sooner or later the electorate will catch on to this con [if they haven’t already] and vote accordingly.