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Japan government mulls stopping employees from fatal overworking

18 January 2017 22:20

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Japan’s government has announced measures to prevent employees from overworking in an attempt to stop people literally working themselves to death, a report says.

The Independent newspaper reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would soon seek to impose a cap on the number of overtime hours employees can work.

Yoshihide Suga, a government spokesman, has said that Japan needs to end the “norm of long working hours so people can balance their lives with things like raising a child or taking care of the elderly.”

Some Japanese companies have begun a routine of switching all the lights off at night to encourage workers to leave the office.

The Japan Business Federation is also set to launch a campaign that will allow workers to leave the office early on the last Friday of every month.

Critics have, however, said this will not do enough to encourage a better work-life balance, especially as the Japan Business Federation has 1,300 companies from over 2.5 million registered businesses in the country.

People cross a street in Tokyo, Japan, where the government seeks to contain overworking in an attempt to stop employees from taking their own lives. (File photo)

People’s lives in jeopardy

Several high-profile cases in recent years have prompted calls for a dramatic shift in Japan’s work culture.

Matsuri Takahashi was an advertising agency employee, who was working 100 extra hours a month before she took her own life in December 2015.

Takahashi joined advertising giant Dentsu in April 2015 but her workload rapidly increased in October that year, leading her to work excessive hours, often returning to her home at 5:00 a.m. after having worked a full day and night.

Tadashi Ishii, the president of Dentsu, stepped down after the government ruled that the 24-year-old had died from overwork.

“I will take full responsibility and will step down at a board meeting in January [2016],” Ishii said.

The Japanese Labor Ministry recently referred one of the country’s biggest companies, Mitsubishi, to prosecutors on suspicion of forcing a 31-year-old male employee to do excessive overtime.

According to a government survey, a fifth of Japan’s workforce is at risk of death by overwork.  They work more than 80 hours of overtime each month.

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