Panel recommends variable hours for Japan's teachers in bid to tackle overwork


A government panel on Thursday recommended the introduction of a variable work-hour system for public school teachers to tackle the problem of overwork.

The system would allow teachers to work long hours during busy periods while taking more days off during the students’ summer break, for example.

The recommendation is part of a draft report on teachers’ work-style reforms compiled by a special committee of the Central Council for Education, which advises the education minister.

The council will submit the report to the education minister early next year. The ministry will revise the work system for teachers based on the report.

The draft report proposed allowing municipalities to choose whether to use variable working hours for public school teachers starting from fiscal 2021.

According to estimates by the ministry, working three extra hours per week will allow teachers to take 15 more annual holidays. If they work four extra hours, they can take 20 more days off.

The report also included a request for the government to draw up guidelines that set an upper limit for teachers’ overtime.

At Thursday’s meeting of the special committee, the education ministry presented a plan to limit overtime to 45 hours per month and 360 hours per year in principle, the same as the regulation to be applied to private-sector companies under work-style reform legislation.

In addition, with the aim of reducing teachers’ workloads, the draft report listed school duties that should not always be carried out by teachers. Such duties included answering surveys, taking care of students during breaks between classes, cleaning school buildings and coaching students in extracurricular activities.

The report stressed the need for education boards and schools to seek in fiscal 2019 cooperation from local volunteers and other helpers for promoting the sharing of school duties.

The education ministry estimates that average monthly overtime of public school teachers reaches 59 hours at elementary schools and 81 hours at junior high schools.

A ministry survey showed that the proportion of public school teachers who worked more than 80 hours of overtime a month, regarded as the risk threshold for death from overwork, stood at some 30 percent at elementary schools and about 60 percent at junior high schools in fiscal 2016.