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A government advisory body discussing changes to working hours and an increase in overtime pay has become bogged down in opposition from both companies and labor groups.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry wants a bill to revise the Labor Standards Law ready by the end of the year so it can submit it to the next regular Diet session, in the new year. But at present, no one even knows when the Labor Policy Council will have its next meeting.

The government is proposing that high-earning white-collar workers no longer have regulated working hours. Under this system, people will not be able to claim overtime. This idea is being resisted by labor groups.

At a meeting sponsored by labor lawyers in Tokyo on June 25, one trade union executive said not regulating hours will make workers more vulnerable.

“We will be unable to expose overtime that violates the Labor Standards Law. It will also become extremely difficult to recognize death from overwork, as we will be unable to show the working hours.”

At the same time the ministry has upset business by suggesting an increase in overtime pay to 50 percent of a person’s wage from 25 percent, for overtime in excess of 30 hours a month. And this is upsetting business.

“The topic of an increase in the rate of overtime pay, which has rarely been discussed, suddenly came up. That is a helter-skelter method,” Takashi Kuriki, managing director of the Japanese Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), said at a subcommittee meeting June 27.

One Labor Policy Council member representing labor said the ministry apparently hopes unions will agree to the new system by holding out the carrot of higher overtime pay.

“But (the basic plan) will legalize unpaid overtime, and the rate of increase will become meaningless,” he said.

“The increase to 50 percent for overtime pay is an international standard,” said Yuichiro Mizumachi, an assistant professor on labor law at the Social Science Institute of the University of Tokyo. “Although resistance by medium-size and small enterprises may be strong, it is a measure that will curb long working hours.”

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