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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 February 14 - 20  > Abe admits discretionary work system won't contribute to reducing working hours
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2018 February 14 - 20 [LABOR]

Abe admits discretionary work system won't contribute to reducing working hours

February 15, 2018
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo on February 14 retracted his earlier remark that a wider use of the discretionary work system is an effective way to reduce working hours, offering an apology.

In a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on the day, Abe said that he will withdraw a remark that he made in the January 29 committee meeting. Explaining the reason, Abe said that he needs to double-check the statistics he cited last month. The canceled statement was intended to justify Abe’s “workstyle reform” plan, which consists of various measures to relax labor laws.

Japanese Communist Party Diet Policy Commission Chair Kokuta Keiji later in the day said to reporters that Abe’s argument about the need of what he calls “workstyle reform” has collapsed. Kokuta stressed that the Abe government should give up on its intent to submit a “workstyle reform” bill to the Diet.

The discretionary work system allows employers to make an agreement on working hours with employees so that the companies pay for no more than a particular number of agreed upon hours worked. In other words, the workers are deemed to have worked an agreed number of hours regardless of how many hours they may have actually worked. Currently, employers can apply this system only to certain types of jobs.

The Abe government seeks to include sales staff in the discretionary work system as one of the pillars of the “workstyle reform” bill which the government intends to enact in the current session of the Diet. Opposition parties and labor unions are opposing the Abe government move, saying that employers will be able to pressure more types of workers to work longer without having to pay overtime based on some government surveys suggesting that workers tend to work longer after their employer introduced the discretionary work system

Abe in the January 29 meeting of the Budget Committee insisted that the expansion of the discretionary work system will help reduce working hours by citing the 2013 Labor Ministry survey indicating that workers under the system work 9 hours 16 minutes per day, whereas other workers 9 hours 37 minutes.

Opposition party lawmakers have criticized Abe’s remark as misleading and demanded the retraction because the figures that Abe cited were meant to represent only workers who are deemed “average”, not workers overall.

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