Accord should help rectify spread of excessively long working hours

The Yomiuri ShimbunWhile curbing long working hours, the environment should be improved so that diverse human resources will be able to actively participate in society. The latest agreement should be one that helps rectify the current situation in which the practice of working excessively long hours prevails.

The Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) have reached an accord in the negotiations on setting an upper limit on overtime hours. The upper limit for overtime should be set at, in principle, up to 45 hours a month and up to 360 hours a year. During busy periods and the like, the upper limit is permitted, exceptionally, up to 720 hours a year, which means a monthly average of up to 60 hours.

As to the monthly upper limit during busy periods — a focal point of the negotiations — both sides have effectively reached a conclusion by setting it at “less than 100 hours.”

Concerning the 100 hours, Keidanren had insisted on setting it at “100 hours or less” monthly, while Rengo had asserted it should be set at “less than 100 hours.” Sympathizing with Rengo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arbitrated.

This may indicate Abe’s will to carry through “work style reforms.” The labor-management agreement signifies a big step forward.

The government will shortly decide on an implementation plan for work style reforms that will reflect the latest agreement, and aims to swiftly submit a related bill to the Diet.

The Labor Standards Law sets the hours of labor at up to eight hours daily and at up to 40 hours weekly, but it is possible to permit overtime if a labor-management agreement is formed. The standard overtime hours are set at 45 hours or shorter monthly and at 360 hours or shorter annually. But these yardsticks are not legally binding. Moreover, it is possible to exceed these standards without limit if an exception is made under a relevant accord.

While rectifying the current situation in which practically the sky is the limit for permitted overtime, the upper limit for overtime is to be incorporated into law. Penalties for violations are also being introduced. In curbing the practice of working excessively long hours, setting the upper limit by law is significant.

Don’t abuse ‘100-hour’ line

The upper limit of “100 hours monthly” is based on standards for acknowledging work-related accidents due to brain and heart ailments. Some people, including bereaved families of those who died from overwork, strongly oppose the idea of permitting overtime hours which nearly reach the so-called karoshi, or death-from-overwork, line.

The upper limit, which is to be set exceptionally for busy periods, is the final line that must not be passed. It is not intended to affirm overtime hours right up to the ceiling. Management needs to engrave this point on its heart. Even when the upper limit for an exceptional case is inevitably applied, management is required to make efforts to restrain the overtime to the level as close as possible to the principle of up to 45 hours a month.

The labor-management agreement has also advocated the promotion of the “interval system” designed to secure a certain length of time between the end of work for a given day and its resumption. Companies will be obliged to make efforts to introduce the system. It will be an effective system for helping workers recover from exhaustion. The government’s support should also be expanded in this regard.

A challenge is what to do with those job areas, such as construction and transport industries, to which the upper limit regulation for overtime hours will not be applied for the time being. Discussion is needed as to what such an effective regulation should be.

In those cases related to prolonged work, including one over the suicide of a Dentsu Inc. employee from overwork, such practices as underreporting of overtime hours and “concealed overtime” have been brought to light. Even though the upper limit for overtime is regulated, it would lose its meaning if the limit is not followed. Reinforcing the supervision and guidance system is essential.

Companies have been increasingly feeling a manpower shortage. Unless the amount of work and its contents are amended, overtime hours will not be reduced. Streamlining operations, through the use of information and communications technology, for instance, is important.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2017)Speech


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