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Working to death in Japan: Health warning over 'no overtime' law

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The Japanese version of job security, "You can't fire me! Slaves have to be sold!"

14 ( +16 / -2 )

The culture for Japanese men to put work before everything else, that your job is your definition, how you are judged, is so imbedded that no law, rules or approach will alter this reality for at least two, three and more generations.

18 ( +20 / -2 )

We need to think about relaxing the income requirement and applying it to a wider scope of workers,” the business lobby’s chief said last month.

Redefining the word slave labor. How can a dollar amount be placed on peoples lives?

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Years ago I worked as a consultant to a large and well-known Japanese energy company. The workers told me that they sat at their desks pretending to be busy until the boss left first even though they had finished all their work for the day. It was all for show. And I have no doubt the boss knew it too.

19 ( +22 / -3 )

"Killing me softly' comes to mind.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I work less than 4 hours a day, and make great money doing it.

-15 ( +6 / -21 )

PM Abe - Never the man to shy away from a problem that he could make worse with terrible legislation.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

@JapanGal, yes, but the vast majority of men earn money sat down or stood up.

16 ( +17 / -1 )

Yikes. It's like saying during any cursory analysis of Japan's mass suicides it came up to remove the overtime pay. You really have to feel sorry for the Japanese worker where corporations are all that matter, no matter the weather too. I hope the Japanese government will one day reverse this trend and support its workers rather than sell them.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If a organization like Keidanren supports the bill then you know it's not in the best interests of workers. Plain and simple.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

This is what they call insanity.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Wait a minute!!....who is earning more than 10 million a year? I work my crack off for a lousy 3 and a half.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Consider this alternative: If Japan not only reversed this idea, but instead upped the overtime rate to 50% instead of the current 25%, then did both a crackdown to enforce it as well as for taking full vacations, and then did a publicity campaign about this to prevent worker compliance in secretly allowing it, then this would have a wave of Abenomic effects.

-People would leave on time and maybe spend it with their family. Families would benefit, more sex would happen as people wouldn't be so tired (so up the population figures) and there'd be potentially less domestic family issues.

-Those without families (or with) would simply just spend. They'd shop, drink, do a hobby, or even just run the A/C and TV at home a bit more which would result in more energy spending. With this the GDP would go up and the amount collected in both consumption tax and corporate tax on profits would increase.

-They'd use their vacation to travel, probably to smaller places in the countryside, which would help rural economies and make jobs there. And those without hobbies would now have time (and energy) take up one, and then spend a bunch of money buying whatever hobby gear was necessary.

-But here's where all the Abenomic arrows leave the quiver: Then the companies would have to hire additional people to cover the hours they weren't inclined to pay a 50% surcharge on (or for the days people weren't there due to vacation). This would not just give more opportunities to women, but it would put pressure on overall worker availability in companies, not to mention in restaurants, hotels, shops, and other places people would be spending their new-found free time. Accordingly, workers would be in demand and usually the way to entice them is through higher salary. So very quickly wages would rise (as well as the tax collected) as companies actually competed for labor, and they'd be able to afford it because people were now spending more since they had more time off.

Unlike the current method of -overwork, underpay, stress, lack of time off to spend, and expectations for companies to pay more anyway without giving cause to how or why-, this reversal method would essentially do exactly the opposite and everyone would benefit. Even the stalwart companies would too since they'd be selling more and earning more profit.

But guess what, if the thinking is instead to begin removing overtime pay because it'll somehow reduce work hours, then I'd say there's no hope for... umm, I mean there's just no hope.

20 ( +20 / -1 )

Supey11 Well said! Well said! Without drastic changes Japan and the culture are going to go the way of the dinosaurs. Nowadays companies are putting profit before all. That means that nothing will change. With Prime Minister Abe's plan it will accelerate the demise of an aging population. Sad, sad days ahead for Japanese workers.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Supey has it right. If companies were required to be paying more money for overtime you can bet that they would be doing their best to crack down on it even if it required them hiring a extra workers. It has been proven in studies that worker production drastically drops the longer the work day is. Lowering overtime hours by hiring extra workers would benefit the salarymen, companies, and country.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

When I worked in a Japanese company my boss was always grumbling about overtime payments and saying he wished the law would be changed.

He should be happy now the LDP have made the change. The result will not be fewer working hours, but more. Incomes will fall and the economy will suffer. On the other hand, profits will rise and corporate donations to the LDP will increase.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

All this would do is make employers happy and overwork their employees.Its already too easy for employers to blame employees for not completing their work and using guilt to forcecthem to work whilst at home or overtime with no logged extra hours.

The government needs to monitor companies that force their employees to wear several hats ( do the workload of 2-3 people) and prevent this, before removing overtime from workers.

Efficiency is dependent on company policies and process, quite often its the company's inefficient processes and policies that prevent employees from working efficiently.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

For Yamashita, who was blinded by his condition, burning the candle at both ends to meet the demands of a high-pressure job was hardly worth the reward.

Of course it wasn't. They all feel like that when what happened to tens of thousands before them, suddenly happens to themselves. As if it comes as some sort of surprise...

Japan's work culture is a pretentious one. Working long hours probably felt great when people re-built their contry and things went up, up, up, but those days are gone. The big problem here is that Japan. Cannot. Change.

No matter how many small steps they take and how many superficial reforms they propose, the mentality feels extremely old fashioned to me. Working like an idiot (ie long hours, not efficiently) is still something that is looked up to. I have talked to young people, who explained their dads come home around midnight from work, and these yong people tell this with some sort of awe and respect in their voices. As if it would be something to be proud of.

The inertia in this place is what's worst of all.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

This problem is not unique to Japan. In Singapore there is a similar compuction on employees to sit at their workstations until late in the evening, regardless of whether there is actually work to do or not, so as to avoid disapproval from their bosses. And both countries wonder why their birthrate is declining to worryingly low levels!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Supey, you are dead right....this change will only incentivize more hours, whereas making overtime more expensive would reduce it. My guess is that they intend to reduce pension payments by killing off as many workers as possible before they can draw them (not kidding there, these guys are too smart not to realize the effect of this policy.)

In my 20 years here I gave heard lots of talk about changing attitudes and awareness of the importance of quality of life....and literally nothing has changed at all. Company employees continue to trudge in everyday to their living death jobs.....because shoganai.It's far too late to change or recover the culture. At this point there aren't enough kids left to even form an adequate workforce in the future, much less one with time to reproduce.

The only hope for young Japanese is to learn a language and leave. My best students are those who have figured this out and are making escape plans! I've become quite good at finding overseas study programs that prepare students for life and work in the host country.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Years ago I worked as a consultant to a large and well-known Japanese energy company. The workers told me that they sat at their desks pretending to be busy until the boss left first even though they had finished all their work for the day. It was all for show. And I have no doubt the boss knew it too.

I know of Australian staff working for Japanese companies in Australia who received negative performance reviews because they refused to stay back later "pretending" to work rather than going home on time. The staff (usually Japanese) who work at a slower rate and stay back later are the ones that are valued (even if they dont get paid overtime)

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Japanese companies are collectively sitting on trillions of yen while their employees are looking at a stagnating moribund economy-working until one expires is the answer.....?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This is just a ploy by Abe to get corporations to raise the wages of the workers in companies that the government threatened to out on it's black-list of businesses that force workers to put in over 100 hours a month in "free" overtime.

There is no way this idea came from within the government itself and is the brainchild of keidanren and other zaibatsu to get their management staff to work longer, not smarter.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Consider this alternative: If Japan not only reversed this idea, but instead upped the overtime rate to 50% instead of the current 25%,

Consider the followup posts to this post, it seems that the readers of Japan Today are not well informed about working conditions in Japan.

Overtime is different in Japan depending on whether or not you work for a large enterprise, or an SME.

Large enterprises have to pay a 50% overtime premium (it's been the law since April 2010).

SME's only have to pay 25%.

However, Abe just recently changed the law and upped the SME overtime premium from 25% --> 50%. It will be fully implemented in 2019.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It is noticeable how so many of the problems that Japan has comes down to some type of cruelty, either in contemporary society or in the past.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The insane work regulations is one of the problems that is killing Japan. Companies can overwork their employees as there's 0 consequence and entirely free to do so. Meanwhile, employees get to spend less time with their families, leading to less people having babies, as they put their careers first, family second.

If Japan enforced good and solid work regulations when it came to overtime, you'd see a much more productive workforce, you'd have more people have the opportunity to create and raise families, the economy would go strong as more people contributed.

The situation now with the graying population is unsustainable. Japan must reform from within and become more progressive in many aspects, especially in the workforce. Otherwise, it'll continue to dwindle.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

“We need to think about relaxing the income requirement and applying it to a wider scope of workers,”

Ah, Keidanran! Always looking out for the little guy! You see, this is the problem. What will happen is Abe will pass the law, claiming it only affects the rich, and then say something like, "But we'll allow localities to employ the law as they choose," or some such crap and it will be completely abused.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Companies can overwork their employees as there's 0 consequence and entirely free to do so.

You miss the point that even if companies weren't free to do so, the employees would still insist on "working" crazy hours. It's too ingrained. It begins in junior high-school with club activities.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

All this slave labor talk leads to a curious idea...in a wierd way, Japanese salary men have become "comfort men."

2 ( +2 / -0 )

, "But we'll allow localities to employ the law as they choose," or some such crap and it will be completely abused.

No argument there.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The "rich" people being targeted here are hardly rich.

Making 10.75m means net roughly 7m. Given that Japanese companies will pay between 30-50% of that as "bonus", the actual net pay per month is roughly 400,000yen/month.

Yes, that's more than the average Japanese, but hardly qualifies as someone who so rich they are freely choosing to make the tradeoff between hours and salary.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It is hard to feel pity for the old gunner who lost his sight. If nothing had happened to his health he would probably be gunning away and could care less about his kids, while forcing the workaholic culture on his subordinates. These kind of guys make me sick unless they have a true gift such as a surgeon or top notch lawyer.

The young guy brings some sympathy, but I bet the mother spent years and years and years drilling into his head about gaman and gimu, and the kid did not have the sense to just quit.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

They want to even more work their slaves to death. And the slaves never complain. Hopeless country. Who the hell would want to "work" in a japanese company?? Japan needs a revolution to force change

2 ( +4 / -2 )

When do they actually 'work' to death?? Being there and actually doing work seem to be two different things. The heart attacks and strokes are due to poor diet and lifestyle choices not being over worked.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

There is a major cultural problem at work her. Supey11 was pretty well on point with his remarks but our entire culture here needs to realize a number of things. We need to take a step back and look at what contributing factors are leading to the problem. As some of you all have noted the attitude starts in Jr. High with club activities, there is a left over feeling of the benefits of overwork because of the results seen in boom years that are long since past. People have equated being physically present to being loyal and loyalty to the company as the highest virtue. And on separate articles some of you have posted about the desires that women have to marry men that make a lot of money and are never home so they can personally do what they want.

There is frankly a lot of garbage that we have to sort through to regarding this problem. But the truth of the matter is that the cultural view of what the purpose of life is must be changed. Many people practically believe that work is the purpose of life, not family, not friendship, not service to a God, not enjoying themselves. If you look at their lives the evidence of how they spend time, relationships they prioritize, and what they worry and think about overwhelmingly supports that work is the purpose of their life. This needs to change.

The truth of the matter though is that you can not legislate a cultural change in attitude. Legislation can be conducive to supporting national goals, but unless the people of Japan as distinct from the government of Japan sees that they need to reevaluate their priorities then the legislation will be ineffective.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Supey11

I couldn't have said it better.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

In the US, it's family first. Not your employer. In Japan, it's company first & loyalty therein. Family takes the back seat. What a world-

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Real change will only happen when the U.S and Europe stop indulging Japan and its mercantilist imitators and start insisting on binding reciprococity in the matter of labour standards. Failure to hold Japan to account for its blatant emasculation of labour's political clout threatens to undermine a century of labour's hard won social gains back home. Or am I getting it the wrong way round. Is Made in Japan disenfranchisement of labour and the host of possibilities it facilitates, including unpaid overtime, blatant confiscatory economic policies, workforce casualisation and all the rest, to be the new template for us all?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Politicians all over the world are universally incompetent parasites.

If they really wanted to change the business culture to get people working less hours, they should quadruple overtime pay. M as ke overtime sad o expensive that corporate leadership will stop demanding the extra work.

All the current law will Do is cause people to become effectively slaves. They will be socially compelled to work overtime for No pay or have their jobs threatened if they don't.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Firstly replace reg corporate tax with ratio pay tax based on ratio between lowest paid and highest paid (usually CEO). Secondly, law that states employees can only work an average of 40 hours per week, averaged every three months. This ensures special projects that require more hours are followed by days/weeks of less hours. No overtime pay needed asthe hours balances itself out.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It is not a 'no overtime' bill because that implies workers can not work overtime. The article states that it's a "no overtime pay bill", which means something totally different. Why not admit when you're wrong, mod? Being wrong is not a sin, but having too much pride is.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

In 1989-1990 on PBS in the USA I watched a show that tried to explain Japan's great economic success. The advice Japanese CEOs gave to Americans was that they needed to STOP putting their families first. 25 years later the Japanese still seem to think this will work ...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What I don't get, is why the overtime? If busuiness (in the stories case sales) is such that it requires so many hours, then either the company needs to hire more or shift working hours to match their customers. If you are at a company, do you now have people working at 2300 waiting for a call from a sales representative? If so, then why don't you just shift your working hoiurs.

In Bahrain, and other Middle East nations, the US government workers there (in this case those that have to deal with administrative issues with the East Coast of the USA) have shifted their work hours so that they come in when the office hours are working back in the USA, as a result, their hours may seem a bit weird, but they get a premium for odd hours, and get this, still have plenty of time to enjoy life. If Japanese companies need to keep people late, then they need to ask themselves why and if their customers are doing it, just shift the working hours for everyone.

Otherwise, you have people just spinning their wheels for nothing and sitting around trying to look busy.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It is not only about how much you work, it is also about How you work.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have to agree. Change the law or whatever, you still won't be able to change the cultural obligation to be at the office for as long as humanly possible each and every day-- and not to take sick leave (you use a paid holiday for that if you're physically unable to drag yourself from your apartment or company dorm) or paid vacation time (you can take one or two days here or there for a nerve-wracking blitz on a "popular" sightseeing spot crammed with a lot of nervous, unhappy people just like you, but forget about a week off to take the family somewhere nice for an extended, relaxing stay). You ease the requirement and make an allowance for people to work longer hours and companies will take full advantage of their workers' feelings of duty and obligation to the company to get them to work unpaid overtime until they drop dead from it. This is nothing more than another "If we work harder, longer, Japan will be saved!" nonsense where everyone has to sacrifice for the greater good except the old guys at the top.

That line about getting your work done quickly and going home early? That's the funniest thing I've read this month. You get your work done quickly, you get more work and you still go home at 8pm or 9pm. Better to spread out your tasks throughout the day because you still can't go home until everyone else is going home. And they're not leaving, either.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Mop till you drop is the Japanese worker logo... or maybe better till you jump.... High pressure = high discipline = good work but some times gets a little over..

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Some good & interesting posts on this one! I have long been harping that the WHOLE of Japan is in dire need of a massive re-invention. Right now Japan is in a death spiral downwards simple as that, we are going from bad to worse.

That said I have long since cared, I do my own thing my own way most of the time. As AApe points out rightly there are serious problems with time management in a typical J-office, so this is what I often do. I wake up around 0830am make coffee, read the paper a bit, check emails & fire some off, make a few calls to get peoples asses in gear & let them know I will be pushing them for answers. Meanwhile I KNOW its going to take until 1800-2200 to get answers SO I then do a bunch of personal stuff during the day, then come back & do work bits here & there.

There is no way I am going to waste my whole life like a salaryman.

If most Japanese don't care enough about these very serious issues & clearly they don't then I find the best thing is not to worry about them, do what you can for yourself & those you care about because Japan & Japan INC DO NOT give a damn about anyone, simple as that!!

Do what you can folks because living life like most Japanese isn't much of a life! And sadly id SO UNNECESSARY!!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

People are posting about the long work hours for Japan Inc. I urge them to watch if they can what happens at 1645 on any of the military bases in Japan. When the "yabba dabba do" whistle goes off on the base where I work, it is quite funny to see the mad rush of the MLC employees bolting from the offices and making a rush to the bus stop or the parking lots. So much for the long work hours ethic for Japanese. Also, some of these places are workers who have to change from some type of work clothes to normal street clothes. They too are out of the door with a quick fashion. It takes more than 30 seconds to shut down a computer and secure an office and change clothes, but from what I have seen, at least 30 minutes before the work day ends, offices begin to shut down allowing for the workers to make that mad dash out the door.

Surprisingly, the work still gets done. Maybe Japan inc. needs to look at that example and make a few changes.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

A person I know working for a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo got audited by the American HQ. It turns out that person and a colleague completed the work for 16 persons (not sure if the whole company has similar performances but I know the other in the sale division and those are measurably identical). Enormous overtime levels, huge sales targets and so on. The companies I am very familiar with has experienced a severe drop in sales in last several years which resulted in lay-offs or put it exactly - failure to replace the people who resign or are let go. As a result, in times of serious inflow of customers - you could see how even senior management has to deal with sales rather than to do their own tasks. As a result, some of day sleep at least one a month in the office.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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