"Goodbye, fresh mangoes" seems a strange way to lead off an article, since the unavailability of mangoes, which are something of a luxury item for most Japanese, hardly seems likely to spur a great deal of anguish.
But Weekly Playboy (Jan 22) thinks this is a good way to make its point, which is that with a new law capping the working hours of truck drivers at 3,300 hours per year -- 216 hours fewer than the previous regulatory statute -- coming into effect from this April, those juicy mangoes from farms in Miyazaki Prefecture may be in unsellable condition by the time they make it to retail stores in Tokyo.
"Getting particularly fresh items that are easily damaged to market won't be possible any more," is how the magazine puts it.
What's more, legislators have put teeth into the new law, as strict penalties await violators.
"Overtime, which was effectively unlimited up to now, has been capped at 960 hours per year. Violators face imprisonment of up to six months, and/or suspension of business activities," business journalist Fujio Morita tells the magazine.
"According to an investigation by the Labor Ministry, in companies ranging from parcel delivery to long-distance trucking, drivers who exceeded 3,300 hours per year accounted for 21.7% of the total. For long distance drivers alone, the figure came to 31.8%," Takashi Takayama, president of a firm that delivers e-commerce goods, tells the magazine. "A simple calculation would show that between 20% to over 30% of goods won't get delivered."
To limit work to the requisite 3,300 hours per year, a driver can work no more than 12 hours per day. "With loading time and breaks worked in, a driver departing from southern Kyushu will have already reached his limit before making it as far as Kansai," says Takayama.
As far as mangoes are concerned, "I suppose we'll have to withdraw from the business of transporting fresh produce, which become unsellable after a few days. Mangoes are a specialty item in Miyazaki, but we won't be able to deliver fresh mangoes to markets or supermarkets in the greater Tokyo area."
So how will the companies get around the restrictions? The main focus of operations is likely to shift to use of multiple drivers.
That won't solely affect retail businesses, but transport customers will have to pay additional charges.
"Supermarkets frequently hold special sales on weekends. This means the action focuses on Fridays, when the warehouses are filled up with goods. A waiting time of 2 to 3 hours to unload and transfer the produce will cause the system to break down," said a source in the food wholesaling industry. "It's a fact that those special sales cause an extension of working hours. From April, when the new system goes into effect, I expect that special sales will become much more difficult."
The pinch is already being felt among some customers. Yamato transport company announced last June it would suspend next-day delivery services or confine such services to more limited areas.
And what about e-commerce giants like Amazon?
"Many of the delivery agents used by Amazon are not companies but owner-drivers. The bureaucracy has not extended its hourly restrictions to these small operators, so it's not expected to have much of an effect on Amazon," Morita remarks.
Nevertheless, the newly imposed invoicing system will lead some small businesses operators to curtail or halt operations in order to hold annual income to under ¥10 million per year -- the cut-off figure for exemption from the 10% consumption tax requirement.
"Concerns have arisen that more delivery agents will quit working for Amazon as well," Morita warns.© Japan Today