May 16, 2017
Tokyo- The Japanese government has drawn up an action plan to promote reform of working practices primarily through the reduction of long overtime hours and equal treatment for regular and nonregular workers.
The plan calls for the first introduction of a cap on overtime hours since the entry into force of the Labor Standards Act in 1947, under which there has been effectively no limit on the length of after-hours work.
In principle, the maximum number of overtime hours is 45 per month and 360 per year, according to the plan, which includes fines for violators.
During busy periods, maximum overtime per month should not exceed 100 hours while a monthly average of 80 hours over two to six months should be permitted. Exceptions to the principle, adopted for busy periods, also include 720 hours per year, or 60 hours on average per month, and more than 45 hours per month permitted for up to six months a year.
The government initially envisioned 100 hours for the maximum length of overtime work per month during busy times. But Rikio Kozu, president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo, brushed aside the scheme as "impossible," noting that applications for worker compensation for deaths from overwork, or "karoshi," are approved if overtime exceeds 100 hours in the month before the occurrence of cerebral or cardiac disorders, which are the common causes of karoshi.
Rengo, the umbrella organization for labor unions in the country, and the Japan Business Federation, also known as Keidanren, the nation's most powerful business lobby, eventually complied with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's call for setting the maximum to under 100 hours.
Critics of the overtime cap point out that it has a loophole because the annual limit of 720 hours does not include holiday work. They also warn that many companies may force employees to work overtime up to the limit.
The government is thus set to prepare guidelines for the reduction of overtime and step up administrative guidance for companies to comply with them in addition to the upper limit on after-hours work. But a government official concerned admitted "the difficulty of advising companies on how many overtime hours they can cut by analyzing operations at each of them."
As another feature, the action plan is aimed at achieving "equal pay for equal work," calling for employers to provide equal paychecks and bonuses to regular and nonregular workers as long as their experience, ability and contribution to corporate earnings are the same.
While pay to non-regular workers isless than 60 percent of what regular employees earn, the action plan envisages raising the figure to around 80 percent. It also calls for employers to adopt the same rates of extra pay for overtime, nighttime and holiday work and equal treatment in the use of cafeterias and other welfare facilities. (Jiji Press)
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