• Kyodo

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Kawasaki Steel Corp. agreed Monday in a court-mediated settlement to pay about 114 million yen in damages to relatives of an employee who committed suicide in 1991 after suffering depression due to overwork, lawyers said.

In a hearing Monday at the Okayama Branch of the Hiroshima High Court, the company agreed to pay the damages to relatives of Junichi Watanabe, who worked at its Mizushima Works in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. He jumped off a company building in June 1991 at the age of 41.

His 51-year-old widow, Shigemi, and son filed the suit in 1994 seeking 120 million yen from the Kobe-based steelmaker.

In a ruling on Feb. 23, 1998, the Okayama District Court ordered Kawasaki Steel to pay 52 million yen, recognizing that Watanabe killed himself after suffering depression due to overtime that averaged five hours on weekdays and 11 hours on Saturdays and Sundays in the five months prior to his death. His total working hours were 2.3 times that of the firm’s designated schedule, the court said.

Both sides appealed the ruling, and the high court’s branch recommended in April that they seek a settlement.

The settlement followed the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in March in which Tokyo-based advertising giant Dentsu Inc. was held responsible for an employee’s suicide because of overwork.

The lawyers representing the plaintiffs said the settlement, which means the firm recognized its responsibility, has considerable significance as a precedent. All corporations in Japan should abolish its long-held practice in which managers take employees’ overtime for granted, they said.

“Companies should make more efforts to protect the lives and health of employees,” they said.

However, Shigemi Watanabe told reporters, “The settlement doesn’t end our grief and agony.”

Kazuhiro Yuge, general affairs section chief of the Mizushima Works, released a comment saying, “We will do everything in our power to prevent similar incidents and maintain workers’ health.”

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