Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared that the ongoing 150-day regular Diet session will be dedicated to "work-style reform." Deliberations on the package of work-style reform legislation will finally start. There are two key elements in the revision of the Labor Standards Law. One is the tightening of labor regulations — imposing a legal cap on overtime hours. The other are deregulatory steps — introduction of the "highly professional" work system and expanding the scope of the discretionary labor scheme. These two are put together to be discussed as a single piece of legislation.

One element of the legislation tightens restrictions on people's work hours, while the other introduces new ways of work free from work hour regulations. Some criticize the legislation as confusing because it seeks to achieve seemingly contradictory objectives. Others charge that the legislation will end up allowing people to work too much — to the point of endangering their health — because it creates a work system not bound by the overtime limit being introduced. There are yet others who argue it is obsolete in the first place, in this age of information technology, to require people to work what hours and where.

Having sat as an expert member on the government's panel on work-style reforms, I hope that the cap on overtime hours will be introduced. True, families of people who died from karōshi (death from overwork) say the upper limit is set too high to ensure that the kind of tragedies that hit their loved ones won't be repeated. But when you think of the practicality of an overtime cap — and given a choice between a cap or no cap — I would say the limit should be introduced. If the legislation fails this time, who knows when it can be revived.