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Use Dentsu ‘guilty’ ruling to begin curing plague of overwork at firms

The Yomiuri ShimbunEach corporation must use the latest court ruling as an opportunity to devise measures aimed at eliminating the practice of working excessively long hours.

The Tokyo Summary Court has handed down a ruling on Dentsu Inc., a major advertising agency that was accused of violating the Labor Standards Law, ordering the company to pay a fine of ¥500,000, as demanded by prosecutors. As a reason for the punishment, the decision stated that Dentsu had made four employees work overtime in excess of the upper limit set under a labor-management agreement.

Dentsu did not adopt significant measures, such as reducing the amount of its business operations or increasing the number of its employees, despite illegal prolonged work having become a usual condition in the company. Unpaid overtime work was prevalent as a result of individual employees being left to decide how to reduce their working hours.

The ruling said such working conditions were a factor behind the case. “It must be stated that Dentsu has heavy criminal responsibility to assume,” it concluded. In light of the facts determined in the case, the court decision to impose the penalty is understandable.

Dentsu’s prolonged work practice surfaced as a problem after Matsuri Takahashi, a new employee among the four workers, committed suicide from overwork. Pointing a finger at the company, the ruling said, “It cannot be overlooked that [the practice] has even resulted in a loss of precious life.”

Prior to Takahashi’s suicide, another Dentsu employee had killed himself due to overwork. The corporation had been repeatedly urged by a labor standards inspection office to rectify the situation related to its employees’ working long hours.

Warning to hundreds

The latest guilty judgment can be viewed as the price to be paid by Dentsu for neglecting to improve its corporate culture while also leaving its employees to work too hard.

In examining the case, the summary court opened a formal trial. This is because the court had decided it would be inadequate to examine the case through summary procedures that entail an examination of documents.

During the trial, the prosecution detailed the realities of prolonged work at Dentsu. These facts were made widely known precisely because the case was examined as an open-court one. Having the lessons of the case shared to prevent a repeat is rather significant.

Appearing in court, Dentsu President Toshihiro Yamamoto pledged to reform his corporation, thereby changing it into “a company that can be trusted regarding [employees’] work style and habits.” Dentsu has unveiled a plan to reduce its employees’ working hours. To regain trust, it is important for the company to steadily carry out the plan.

In examining a case involving an alleged violation of the Labor Standards Law over the practice of prolonged work, the Osaka Summary Court also held a formal trial this year. This indicates that judicial authorities are taking a harder line on the issue.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, working long hours illegally was confirmed at more than 40 percent of about 24,000 workplaces subject to on-site examinations last fiscal year. The guilty ruling on Dentsu may have been intended to punish one while giving a warning to hundreds.

Reforming work styles is one of the contentious issues to be debated during campaigning for the House of Representatives election. However, the lower house dissolution has made it impossible to see whether a bill to revise the Labor Standards Law — setting upper limits on overtime work, backed up by penalties for offenders — will pass the Diet.

Each corporation needs to adopt an attitude conducive to promoting reforms, such as by taking its own initiative in improving business efficiency rather than simply waiting for revisions to the law.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 11, 2017)Speech



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