The government will impose a limit on overtime work in excess of 45 hours per month for up to six months within one year, according to officials of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The labor standards revision is aimed at curbing a rise in working hours amid the tough employment climate, the officials said.

The ministry has already informed prefectural labor offices about the revision, which will be enforced on April 1, according to the officials.

Under the current standards, companies can have their employees engage in overtime work over and above the 45-hour limit per month under a special management-labor agreement.

The agreement operates under vaguely defined special circumstances and does not specify any clear limit on how long the overtime may continue.

To prevent the special overtime agreement from continuing on a limitless basis, the revision stipulates a six-month ceiling per year, restricts the special circumstances to “provisional” circumstances, and excludes the use of reasons such as being simply necessary for work and unavoidable.

It also compels management to state clearly the reasons for longer overtime.

The ministry will not impose penalties in the event that the new standards are violated, though labor standards authorities will issue advice and guidance on compliance.

“We cannot protect employees’ health under circumstances allowing them to work limitlessly and want both employers and employees to follow rules and guidelines,” a ministry official said, referring to accusations that excessive overtime work can lead to work-related deaths.

According to a survey of 15,000 firms conducted by the ministry in April 2002, 15 percent of companies have a special management-labor agreement that allows overtime exceeding 45 hours a month.

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