National / Politics

Opposition deal to tweak Japanese labor bill likely to get contentious legislation past Diet

Kyodo

The ruling bloc agreed Monday with some opposition parties to modify a labor reform bill aimed at tackling Japan’s chronic overwork problem, paving the way for its passage before the Diet closes on June 20, lawmakers said.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, are looking at Wednesday for passing the contentious bill via tje House of Representatives panel overseeing it. They now have the support of two small opposition parties, Nippon Ishin no Kai and Kibo no To (Party of Hope).

While the ruling parties hold a comfortable majority in the 465-seat Lower House, they do not want the public thinking the bill would be rammed through the Diet without the consent of the opposition camp.

“This is a major step for the ruling parties. The people can be assured now that the ruling and opposition parties have agreed to some extent,” Norihisa Tamura, a senior LDP lawmaker, said after a meeting involving the four parties.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government sees the reform of working practices as its most top priority for the Diet session.

The bill 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.

Under the plan agreed to on Monday, workers would be able to decline being subject to the last item, known as the “white collar overtime exemption” and eagerly sought by business lobbies, even after they have once accepted it.

But it is still unclear whether Diet deliberations will move forward smoothly amid protests by the leading Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties.

Although the ruling parties claim the last item would enable “flexible work styles,” opposition parties and labor unions criticize it as a “zero-overtime pay” scheme and one that could exacerbate long working hours, leading to more karōshi (death by overwork).

Nearly 70 percent of the respondents in the latest Kyodo News survey earlier this month did not see the need for passing it during the current Diet session.