National

Labor reform bill passed by Japanese government despite opposition criticism

Kyodo

The government approved a bill Friday aimed at addressing the nation’s chronic overwork problem despite opposition criticism that the envisioned legislation could exacerbate long working hours.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government wants the measure passed by the end of the current Diet session that ends June 20.

The Abe administration views work-style reform as the most important agenda item in current deliberations, but has dropped one of the key pillars of the legislation after a working-hour survey backing it proved erroneous.

The bill now consists of three pillars: Setting a legal cap on overtime work; ensuring equal treatment for regular and nonregular workers; and exempting skilled professional workers with high wages from working-hour regulations.

The ruling camp claims the last item, known as the white collar overtime exemption and sought by business lobbies, would enable “flexible work styles.” Opposition parties and labor unions have lambasted it as a “zero overtime pay” scheme.

Opposition parties have also said it is unclear which workers are targeted by the bill. They are set to submit alternative bills to the Diet.

The government had initially hoped to expand the “discretionary labor system,” which rewards workers based on a fixed number of overtime hours rather than actual hours worked, but dropped the plan after numerous errors were found in February in government data that was designed to promote it.

The bill meanwhile sets the legal overtime cap at 100 hours per month and 720 hours per year and stipulates that companies that violate the limits will face punishment. The cap will be introduced at major companies in April next year and smaller firms in April 2020.

The government had sought to submit the bill to the Diet in late February, but the schedule was pushed back due to the flawed data.