Business

Abe urges business leaders to address working hours, equality issues in 2017

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged business leaders Thursday to push for fundamental reform of working conditions to limit long working hours and promote equal treatment of workers regardless of their employment status.

“This year will be the year to implement bold working style reforms,” Abe said at a New Year’s celebration in Tokyo organized by three major Japanese business lobbies. “I request all of you to take the initiative and change working culture.”

The government is seeking ways to curb excessive working hours following the suicide of a 24-year-old employee of advertising giant Dentsu Inc. due to overwork in December 2015, which began to draw public attention in the fall of 2016 and sparked criticism of illegally long working hours.

Last month, the government drafted guidelines for a system of “equal pay for equal work” regardless of work status, stipulating that firms provide equal payment to nonregular employees for work equivalent to that of regular employees.

Abe asked business leaders to raise wages this year to help the country’s economy escape from chronic deflation and “build a strong nation.”

He also told the business leaders that Japan is expected to remain a “stabilizing force” globally amid rising uncertainty over the economic outlook with “many new world leaders coming in this year.”

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will take office later this month. The Republican said throughout his campaign that he would focus on putting “America First,” fueling concern that the world’s largest economy could shift to isolationist and protectionist trade policies.

Trump has also vowed to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, a U.S.-led free trade deal that Japan, the United States and 10 other Pacific Rim nations signed last year, on his first day in office.

Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, known as Keidanren, said at a news conference following the celebration that he will work to reform working conditions alongside the government.

“Limiting long hours and achieving equal treatment of regular and nonregular workers are the two pillars (of the Abe administration) and the key issues for the business community,” Sakakibara said.

Calling the Dentsu case “a tragedy,” the chairman said that death from overwork should never happen again and asked executives to change their mentality and be determined to “eradicate punishing work hours.”

Other corporate executives also expressed willingness to redress long working hours and change the country’s severe work ethics.

The celebration attended by Abe was organized by the Japan Business Federation, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives.

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