Some of the measures in the government’s work-style reform legislation enacted last year came into force this month, placing the first-ever legal cap on the hours of overtime work that each corporate employee can clock. Previously, the upper limit to a worker’s total overtime hours — beyond the eight hours a day and 40 hours a week under the Labor Standards Law — had been set in an agreement between the management and labor union of each company. While the measure marks a first step toward curbing the excessively long working hours of many corporate employees in this country, it only sets the baseline from which each firm needs to make further efforts to cut employees’ work hours — both for their health and for greater work efficiency.

The new rule in principle limits an employee’s overtime to 45 hours a month and 360 hours a year. To respond to the increased workload during busy seasons, a labor-management agreement can extend the limit up to 99 hours a month, up to an average of 80 hours monthly over a period of two to six months, and up to 720 hours a year. A company — or the official in charge of labor affairs — that violates the rules would be punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine of no more than ¥300,000.

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