• Kyodo


Despite an agreement reached by the government, businesses and a labor union that caps annual overtime at 720 hours, there apparently is a loophole that allows up to 960 hours of overtime if employees work on holidays.

The 720-hour cap in the agreement doesn’t include hours logged on holidays, effectively enabling employees to work up to 80 hours in monthly overtime for 12 straight months. This threshold increases the risk of karoshi, or death from overwork.

The government is trying to play down the technicality, arguing that it only accounts for rare cases.

The Labor Standards Law obliges companies to grant workers one day off a week — typically on Sundays. When employees work on designated days off, their hours are calculated separately from overtime during the normal workweek because they are compensated at a higher rate for work on holidays.

At a meeting on labor reform last week, the government, Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), the country’s most powerful business lobby, and labor union Rengo presented a plan to limit overtime to 45 hours a month in principle, or 360 hours a year.

An exception will be allowed for busy periods which may last for six months, where overtime hours are to be capped at less than 100 hours a month for one month, or an average 80 hours a month for a continuous period of two to six months. Both limits include working hours logged on holidays.

The three parties also agreed that overall overtime should be capped at 720 hours a year or an average of 60 hours each month, if agreed upon by labor and management.

However, the 720-hour cap excludes holidays. The same goes for the 45-hour overtime limit during regular periods, which means that firms could have employees work extra hours on their days off, effectively extending overtime to 80 hours each month.

This means managers who are looking to sidestep rules on excessive overtime during the normal workweek could just shift those extra hours to holidays.

“We will make efforts to minimize work on holidays as well as overtime on weekdays,” said Katsunobu Kato, the minister in charge of labor reform, at a news conference Tuesday.

Kato explained that working hours on holidays and overtime during the regular workweek have been managed separately, adding, “We will work to reduce the total overtime hours.”

Labor minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki defended the agreement.

“The agreement by the government, labor and management places importance on efforts to aim for the principle of (45-hour overtime each month). That is major progress,” he said.

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