National / Politics

Abe withdraws remark about Japan's discretionary work system after opponents challenge labor ministry data

JIJI

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday withdrew a recent remark on Japan’s discretionary work system, while opposition lawmakers questioned the validity of the labor ministry survey on which Abe’s remarks were based.

“I’d like to withdraw my remark and apologize,” Abe told a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting in reply to a question from Akinori Eto of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

On Jan. 29, Abe had told the committee that some data indicates the average work hours of employees under the discretionary system are shorter than those of ordinary employees, citing a fiscal 2013 survey by the labor ministry.

The government defines certain types of work that require high levels of expertise together with planning and management abilities, such as academic research, system engineering, game designing and journalism, as “discretionary work.” If they make a special agreement with their employers, workers in these fields are expected to exercise discretion in deciding how to organize their time and are not bound to traditional labor regulations, including those on overtime pay.

If proposed legislation for work style reforms is enacted, the discretionary work system would be expanded to cover a wider variety of these white-collar professions.

At Wednesday’s committee meeting, labor minister Katsunobu Kato apologized for the government’s citation of the data during the Jan. 29 session.

But Kato did not say whether the information is accurate. “We need time, as we are examining more than 10,000 items of data as well as research methods,” he said.

Yukio Edano, leader of the major opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, called for the government to reveal the data that became the basis for Abe’s comment.

Kato said the government will consider its response, including what information it may disclose.

House of Councillors lawmaker Renho of the CDP told reporters that Abe’s apology means that what he said was false, undermining the basis for the proposed legislation.

She urged the government to give up the idea of introducing the legislation.

On Tuesday, CDP acting leader Akira Nagatsuma told the same committee that there are problems with the labor ministry survey.

According to Nagatsuma, the survey showed that daily overtime work came to one hour and 37 minutes for an average ordinary employee, but also said that extra work hours per week totaled 2 hours and 47 minutes.

In addition, the survey included a section saying that an average employee’s daily overtime work exceeded 15 hours, Nagatsuma said.