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Japan's overtime cap sparks outcry

By Agence France-presse | China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-20 07:15

TOKYO - Workaholic Japan has unveiled its first-ever plan to limit overtime, but critics want to give it the boot, saying an "outrageous" 100-hour-a-month cap will do nothing to tackle karoshi, or death from overwork.

Tokyo's bid to ease a national health crisis comes after the top executive at advertising giant Dentsu quit late last year in response to the suicide of a young employee who regularly logged more than 100 hours of overtime a month.

The death of Matsuri Takahashi generated nationwide headlines, prompting the government to come up with a solution to punishing work hours blamed for hundreds of deaths due to strokes, heart attacks and suicides every year.

A panel headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has since come up with a plan calling for a maximum of 100 overtime hours a month.

The conservative leader called it a "historic step for changing the way people work in Japan" but critics think the plan should be given its marching orders.

The Labour Lawyers' Association of Japan has slammed the proposed cap as "extremely inappropriate" and "impossible to support".

"It's tantamount to endorsing a limit that could cause overwork deaths," said association head Ichiro Natsume.

Others who have lost loved ones to karoshi agree.

"We cannot accept this - it's outrageous," said Emiko Teranishi, who heads a group for relatives of karoshi victims.

"I thought the government was finally going to tackle the issue ... But this has turned out to be (a) step backward rather than a step forward."

The new rules would limit monthly overtime and levy penalties on employers who don't comply - both firsts in a country notorious for its grueling work schedule.

But the proposed changes, expected to be submitted this year, would let employers make workers put in as many as 100 hours of overtime if the office is busy - a determination made by managers.

Rengo's president Rikio Kozu praised the scheme as "the first step taken toward eliminating karoshi".

But it does not do enough to tackle the problem, said Hifumi Okunuki, a unionist and teacher at Sagami Women's University.

"How many more workers must die before our country wakes up?" she wrote in a Japan Times opinion column.

(China Daily 04/20/2017 page10)

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