Responding to the suicide of Matsuri Takahashi, an employee at the Dentsu Inc. advertising agency on Christmas Day last year, the labor ministry will bolster regulations covering illegal overtime by making it easier to publicize the names of errant companies.
With the new measures to be implemented as early as next month, the ministry is aiming to prevent workers from dying or committing suicide due to overwork, but pundits brand the effort as lukewarm, saying the new rules don’t have enough teeth to force changes to Japan’s notorious corporate culture of excessively long work hours.
Under the latest measures released Monday, the monthly overtime threshold for the ministry to publicly shame companies will be reduced from the current 100 hours to 80.
If a company illegally forces employees to work over 80 hours of overtime a month at more than two of its offices, the labor standards inspection office will instruct the company to rectify the situation. If no improvement is made, the ministry will make public the name of the company.
The ministry will also announce the company’s name if there are any cases of karoshi, or death from overwork, at more than two of its offices.
The current system took effect in May 2015. So far, the ministry has announced the name of only one company, Chiba-based Ajis Co.
Under the Labor Standards Law, work hours are capped at eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.
But the law has been widely criticized as toothless since the cap can be removed with a signed agreement between a company and labor unions or representatives of more than half of its employees.
The new schemes will include preventive measures against power harassment as well as mental health problems.
Labor lawyer Ichiro Natsume said this latest government effort is meaningless.
“It does not include any measures to actually prevent long working hours or death from overwork. It cannot be effective,” Natsume said.
“Even by reducing conditions to release a company’s name from 100 hours to 80 hours, it is still too long given 80 hours is the threshold for a worker’s death to be recognized as karoshi.”
He also said the government must place the cap at 60 hours a month together with a new regulation requiring an interval of at least nine hours between the finish of one shift and the start of the next.
“Those two should be legalized together as a set in order to prevent death from overwork,” Natsume said.
Akio Doteuchi, a senior researcher at NLI Research Institute, agreed, saying such a legal threshold should be put in place to ban extreme cases of overtime.
“I once did such superlong overtime and it was extremely tough. Working such long hours of overtime is out of the question. It should be legally banned,” Doteuchi said.
Japan’s notorious corporate culture of working excessively long hours sparked criticism following the case of Takahashi, who at age 24 jumped to her death from a corporate dormitory on Dec. 25, 2015, after she had put in more than 100 hours of overtime during one month.
According to the labor ministry, 151 people died in fiscal 2015 after racking up more than 80 hours of overtime in a month.
Their deaths were recognized as karoshi.
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