The Yomiuri ShimbunPublic trust in labor administration is essential for achieving work style reform. The government must sincerely face public distrust and concerns, and make efforts to dispel them with thorough explanations.
The government has submitted a set of work style reform bills to the Diet. A pillar of the legislation is the establishment of an upper limit on overtime work and the promotion of an equal pay for equal work system. It aims to enact the legislation during the current Diet session.
Following incidents in which data presented by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry proved inappropriate, the government was forced to remove items related to the expansion in scope of a discretionary work system it initially intended to include in the legislation.
The government has regarded the current Diet session as “a session for the sake of work style reform.” The reform initiative is at a crucial stage in terms of whether progress can be made to rectify long working hours and improve the treatment of non-regular workers. All possible preparations must be made.
The growing confusion over the discretionary work system is concerning.
Late last year, the labor ministry’s Tokyo Labor Bureau announced it had issued a special directive to Nomura Real Estate Development Co., which abused a discretionary work system. The government brought up the directive at the Diet as if it was a case in which strict guidance and supervision were exercised. However, it later came to light that a Nomura Real Estate employee to whom the discretionary work system was applied inappropriately had committed suicide due to overwork, and his death had been recognized as a worker’s accident.
The opposition camp has raised questions over the government’s withholding of the suicide from overwork and only making public the special directive. It suspects the government intentionally concealed the inconvenient truth, and stressed only the results of the crackdown in a bid to expand the scope of its discretionary work system.
Constructive debate needed
In principle, matters such as individual cases of work-related incidents and admonitions to correct labor management practices are not disclosed. The special directive to Nomura Real Estate is the second of its kind and the first to be announced by the labor bureau. The bureau’s move is indeed unusual. Regarding the development of the matter, the government should disclose information as much as possible and work hard to explain it.
It also cannot be overlooked that the labor bureau’s chief, when asked about the matter at a press conference, made remarks such as, “We could take time to visit your media companies and admonish them to correct their practices.”
Although the remarks were later retracted, they are suspected of amounting to arbitrary use of power. Such remarks further fuel public distrust in labor administration.
The labor ministry, which plays a key role in work style reform, must no longer undermine the government’s efforts to pass the legislation into law.
The opposition camp has intensified its offensive against the government and is also calling for dropping items related to a “post-hourly wage system” in which some specialist jobs with high income will be exempt from work-hour regulations.
This new system targeting certain jobs is intended to separate pay from working hours and evaluate workers based on performance. Its aim — to respond to diversified work and promote effective ways of working — is timely.
Viable measures to prevent overwork are crucial. The opposition parties have criticized the bills, calling them “legislation to promote deaths from overwork.” But such criticism appears to be based on the premise that people work long hours. Constructive discussions must progress.