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A group made up of the heads of leading companies in Japan has begun collecting signatures online as part of a bid to slash overtime work in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district, home to many central government offices, as the coronavirus pandemic forces government employees to work increasingly long hours.

The group is calling for government ministries and agencies to close their doors at 10 p.m., saying that "working practices in the central government have an impact on the country's civil society."

The move is the brainchild of a group led by Kentaro Kawabe, president of Yahoo Japan Corp. and its parent, Z Holdings Corp., and Yoshihisa Aono, president of computer software developer Cybozu Inc., and involves 17 others.

The group plans to submit signatures and a proposal to each government body in late November.

According to the labor ministry, 145 central government employees worked 100 hours or more of overtime in April, when the virus was surging nationwide — a drastic rise from the 18 workers recorded a year earlier.

A survey by Tokyo-based consulting firm Work Life Balance Co., covering 480 central government employees, also showed that about 40% of them worked over 100 hours of overtime a month between March and May.

In the proposal, the group will call on the central government ministries and agencies to close their offices between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and allow workers to deal with urgent work at home.

Yoshie Komuro, one of the members of the group and president of Work Life Balance, said that the main reason behind the government employees' long hours has to do with preparation work for lawmakers.

For example, lawmakers submit advance notification of questions to be made in the diet to related government ministries and agencies, even late at night, forcing government employees to work late.

"If Kasumigaseki changes, politicians will have no choice but to change their way of working," Komuro said.

"Private companies and the wider society are being forced to keep up with the old-fashioned working style" of the central government, she stressed, adding that government organizations often seek face-to-face communications.

"Long working hours block the introduction of information technologies," Komuro said. "Kasumigaseki should correct working practices to promote digitalization in the country."

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