Japan: Christmas Karoshi Leads to Reexamination of Excessive Overtime

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By Toshio Aritake

The Christmas 2015 karoshi (work-to-death) suicide of Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old employee of Japan's top ad agency Dentsu Inc., is continuing to ripple through the Japanese labor and business sectors. The country's largest business lobby has released a workplace guideline recommending shorter work hours, and the government is expected to limit monthly overtime to 60 to 80 hours.

Attacking the ‘Ogre Rules'

Takahashi's mother released a statement Jan. 20 that she and Dentsu had reached a settlement that included the company's abandonment of its “Ten Ogre Rules” set in 1951 by a former president and encouraging staff to stick to a goal even to the point of death. Takahashi's family had contended that the principle symbolized Dentsu's culture of excessively long hours. In the months preceding her suicide, Takahashi repeatedly worked long hours, clocking 105 hours of overtime over the course of the month beginning Oct. 9, 2015, according to the Asahi newspaper.

Spurred at least in part by Takahashi's death, business federation Nippon Keidanren released a workplace guideline urging member companies to reduce working hours and increase basic wages and benefits to offset lower wages resulting from reduced overtime. Labor union confederation Rengo has proposed an upper limit on work hours of 750 per month.

Reform Commission to Meet

Prime Minister Abe's work reform commission, scheduled to meet Feb. 1, is expected to recommend amendment of the Labor Standard Law by the end of March to impose more restrictions on overtime work, Yohei Azuma, legal affairs officer of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare's Labor Standard Bureau, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 23. The current law stipulates legal work hours as eight per day and 40 per week but allows employers and employees to agree to unlimited additional hours, although overtime exceeding 60 hours must be paid at time and a half (150 percent) the employee's ordinary pay.

There is speculation that the labor ministry will propose to the commission an upper limit on overtime of between 60 and 80 hours a month, taking into consideration the 60-hour-plus premium, Rengo's 750-hour proposal and other countries' work-hour limitations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Toshio Aritake in Tokyo at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

For More Information

For more information on Japanese HR law and regulation, see the Japan primer.

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