National / Crime & Legal

Tokyo worker died from overwork after switch to discretionary labor system, lawyer says

JIJI, Kyodo

A 28-year-old worker at a Tokyo-based system development company died from overwork in August 2017, about a month after he began to work under the contentious discretionary work system, an attorney representing his family has said.

He worked for 36 consecutive hours shortly after switching to the discretionary system, attorney Hiroshi Kawahito said Wednesday.

According to Kawahito, the man developed computer systems for real estate businesses at Tokyo-based ReCI Inc.

The man joined the company in 2013 and switched to the discretionary work system when he was promoted to team leader on July 1 last year. He worked continuously from 1 p.m. on July 4 until 1 a.m. on July 6.

His posts on social media included such sentences as “I’m exhausted beyond words,” “22 hours to go before my work ends” and “It’s the first time I’ve worked 36 hours consecutively.”

He was found dead in his home the following month. The Ikebukuro labor office determined last month that his death was induced by his working conditions.

While he was working long hours even before switching to the discretionary work system, the move had a negative effect as it led to him working through the night, Kawahito said.

The man averaged 87 hours of overtime per month in the two months prior to his death, exceeding the 80-hour threshold used by authorities to determine deaths from overwork.

Before that two-month period, the man’s monthly overtime reached as high as 184 hours.

His 58-year-old mother said in a statement that she urged the firm not to create another victim like him.

A ReCI official said that the company cannot comment on the matter as it has not established the facts of the case.

The discretionary labor system allows employers to pay workers according to a predetermined number of hours instead of actual working hours, meaning workers are not paid for overtime work not agreed upon beforehand.

Many families of those who died from overwork have expressed concern that the discretionary work system leads to longer working hours.

The Diet is deliberating a labor reform bill aimed at addressing Japan’s chronic overwork problem.

The Abe administration initially planned to expand the discretionary labor system, but dropped those aspirations earlier this year after numerous errors were found in government data designed to promote it.