• Kyodo

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Essential workers in the health care and transportation sectors were increasingly required to work excessive hours during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a government study released Friday.

Overall in the March-April period of the study, the percentage of people who worked for 80 or more hours per week fell, but in health care and transport, including postal and package delivery workers, it increased.

Overwork among transport workers increased 0.23 percentage point from a year earlier to 2.01% in March, according to the latest white paper analyzing overwork-related deaths and suicides. For those employed in health care, the figure rose 0.08 percentage point from the previous year to 0.68%.

In April, the trend remained roughly the same for the sectors.

As part of attempts to address the problem of death due to overwork or suicide, restrictions and penalties have been introduced on employers for requiring staff to work excessively long hours, but the health care and transportation industries have so far been exempted from such reforms.

Meanwhile, the white paper found long consecutive hours on duty and graveyard shifts were the main reasons behind brain and heart disorders that could trigger overwork-related deaths.

Among the 2,280 cases of brain and heart disorders registered between fiscal 2010 and 2017 as work-related, the most common stress factors besides overwork six months prior to becoming ill included “long consecutive hours on duty,” “shift-based work, graveyard shift,” and “irregular work.”

Looking into those who committed suicide due to work-related mental conditions and who had their deaths recognized as such under the workers’ compensation program in fiscal 2015 and 2016, 40.1% were employed in industries needing specialized or technical knowledge, while 15.0% were in managerial positions.

Only around 30% of salaried workers said their working hours had decreased compared with four or five years ago, while some 30% of self-employed people and corporate executives said the same, according to a labor ministry survey conducted from September to November last year.

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