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article imageJapan ruling party proposes 'worked-to-death' bill

By Karen Graham     Mar 24, 2014 in Health
Japanese workers are unique in all the world. Theirs is a culture that dates back to the Samurai code that stresses loyalty, discipline and, above all, diligence. National laws set the workday at eight hours, yet workers are still being worked to death.
This is the reason the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is finalizing a draft bill to be introduced at the next Diet session that would make government responsible for implementing and promoting measures to prevent workers from dying as a result of working too hard.
The bill will have four main points, or pillars, according to an LDP working group. The first point will include extensive research and investigation into deaths from overworking, a phenomenon that has become so common, it even has a name, karoshi. The next pillar of the bill is the need for a campaign to create more public awareness on the issue.
Third is the necessity to improve existing counseling services for workaholics and those who are overworked. Lastly is the need for measures that would aid in the prevention of deaths from karoshi. The LDP is working on making the bill a "suprapartisan" effort, including opposition party members that tried to get a similar bill passed late last year.
The bill says that both companies and local governments have a responsibility to ensure that workers are not being too overworked to the point they will die from it. There is also the suggestion that councils should be formed who would listen to the families of those who died. This would include labor unions and their representatives.
The two stumbling blocks facing the legislators is coming up with a definition of death from being overworked, and what the bill should be called. It is believed that karoshi includes brain and cardiac disorders , as well as a number of mental disorders. Others think some additional diseases can be linked to employees being worked far too hard.
Aside from the fact the Japanese workforce is known for their loyalty, dedication and work ethic, the bill may be a step in the right direction, according to many proponents. In September of 2013, an audit conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare found that 4,189 businesses in Japan were in violation of the country's labor laws. Violations included forcing employees to work overtime, and not paying overtime wages. The companies were instructed to address the issues to avoid sanctions.
Data from the audit revealed that almost 44 percent (2,241) of the companies were forcing employees to work past the maximum hours as set by their labor unions. At least 24 percent (1,221) of the companies withheld overtime pay from workers who worked beyond their normal hours. One company, to circumvent the whole issue and avoid paying overtime wages, gave "managerial" status to 70 percent of their workers.
It was discovered that 730 companies had workers who clocked over 100 hours every month in overtime. It is felt that this kind of forced labor is conducive to karoshi. Companies in the entertainment industry (hotels, food service) had the most violations, 87.9 percent. Following were the transportation industry at 85.5 percent, and the health care industry with 83.6 percent.
The startling number of deaths of young men, as well as healthy men in the prime of their lives, has steered the course of the "worked to death" bill. Death from karoshi was first brought to the public's attention in 1969, when a young man, 29 years old, who worked in the shipping department of a large newspaper company, died from a stroke. By the 1980s, the deaths of a number of executives, in their prime and otherwise healthy, got the media's attention. This was when karoshi was labeled a serious health menace and started being documented.
More about overworked, Japanese workers, workaholics, Legislation, Deaths
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