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Japan’s cancer-hit employees continue to battle for system to reduce workload: survey

Kyodo

More than 70 percent of Japan’s major companies do not have a system that lets employees with cancer work a reduced schedule or at home while undergoing treatment, a survey shows.

The results underscore how efforts to make the labor system more flexible to help sick employees haven’t yet taken root, though advances in medicine have enabled more patients to beat the disease while continuing to work.

Almost a year has passed since the Diet enacted a law obliging companies to make efforts to help employees with cancer keep working, but a mere 20.9 percent of them said they had taken steps since then, according to the results of the Kyodo News survey, released Saturday.

The survey, conducted last month, covered 108 domestic firms, including Toyota Motor Corp. and Panasonic Corp. A total of 91 responded.

According to the survey, 71.4 percent of the responding companies said they had not introduced a system to let employees work shorter than stipulated hours to help them undertake radiation and other medical treatments.

Some 69.2 percent of the firms surveyed said they did not have a telecommuting system, and just 33 percent let employees take paid leave on an hourly basis.

Depending on the stage of the cancer and its location, patients may not necessarily leave the office for extended periods of time to get treatment.

Still, about 30 percent of cancer patients are said to quit work after being diagnosed.

According to the National Cancer Center Japan, about 862,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2013, with those between 20 and 64 accounting for 29 percent. This means about a third of all cancer patients in Japan are of working age.

“Even if you get cancer, you won’t die soon. You have life and you need money for medical treatment,” said Yohei Nishiguchi, a 38-year-old employee at human resources company en-Japan Inc. who was diagnosed with Stage IV bile duct cancer in February 2015. He now serves as chief of a group where child-rearing cancer parents can share their thoughts.

Many members of the group, known as “Cancer Parents,” are reluctant to inform their companies of their diagnoses out of fear it may cause trouble for their colleagues or that they may no longer be assigned work, Nishiguchi said. Some have even decided to leave their companies, he added.

“What’s important for achieving a balance between (work and treating cancer) is communicating with your bosses and colleagues,” he said. “I want them to gather the courage to speak up.”

The survey also found that 75.8 percent of companies offer cancer-screening checkups, and 56 percent have a section for consulting with employees who are diagnosed or have a manual for how best to approach the issue.

For those wishing to take extended periods of leave, Japanese companies are relatively well prepared.

Some 79.1 percent of the companies said such employees can save their unused annual paid leave for use the following year. Another 52.7 percent said they have a paid leave system for employees in poor health.

“We have a system to enable employees to take long leaves but our support for those wishing to keep working (while battling disease) is not sufficient,” said an official with one of the responding companies.