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HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 November 23 - 29  > Japan needs work hour regulations that actually work
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2016 November 23 - 29 [LABOR]
column 

Japan needs work hour regulations that actually work

November 29, 2016
Akahata ‘current’ column

The Japanese word “karoshi”, which means death from overwork, has been also known to non-Japanese speakers since more than 20 years ago. Japan’s Labor Ministry in its recent official report admitted that the number of work-related suicides has topped 2,000 a year.

Last year, a female worker at Japan’s major advertising agency Dentsu killed herself after working more than 130 hours of overtime a month. A labor-management agreement at the company sets the upper limit of monthly overtime at 70 hours, but the 24-year-old woman was forced to work far longer than that.

In London 153 years ago, newspapers reported the death of a 20-year-old woman due to overwork. She got sick after working 26 and a half straight hours at a sewing factory and died two day later. The young factory worker was making dresses for ladies attending a wedding celebration ball for the Princess of Wales, Karl Marx wrote in The Capital.

At that time in Britain, a workday was already set at ten hours by an 1850 law, but this legal regulation was not applied to the dressmaking industry. Today in Japan, the Labor Standards Law stipulates that work hours should be no more than eight hours a day and 40 hours a week. However, a loophole in the law enables employers to have their employees work much longer, almost without limit.

When the International Working Men’s Association was making a proposal on the length of the working day, Marx said that an eight hour day is essential to allow workers to maintain their physical health, develop their intellectual faculties, and have opportunities to engage in social and political activities.

The Japanese Communist Party in the draft resolution of its 27th Congress proposes to create a society where people are not forced to work more than eight hours a day and can have a decent quality of life. To establish an effective legal limit on overtime is essential to eliminate excessively long working hours. This is the viewpoint missing in Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s “workstyle reform” policy.
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