JIN-475 -- Worked to death

J@pan Inc Newsletter
The 'JIN' J@pan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 475 Wednesday July 23, 2008, Tokyo

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Worked to death

In November last year, the Nagoya District Court recognized the
death of Toyota employee Kenichi Uchino in 2002 as 'karoshi' –
death caused by overwork. Last month, the Aichi Prefecture Labor
Bureau ruled that the death of another 45-year-old Toyota
employee back in 2006 was also caused by overworking and, just
last week, a court in Saitama declared a similar verdict in the
case of a 32-year-old Skylark restaurant manager who collapsed
and later died of a brain hemorrhage. In the case of the
latter, the Mainichi Shimbun reports that the manager, Takayuki
Maezawa, as well as working long periods of overtime, was also
forced to bear the additional stress of high responsibility
without being given a permanent position at the company. This
makes the court decision a precedent as it is the first time
that a non-permanent employee's death has been officially
recognized as a result of overworking.

Karoshi, as well as work stress-related suicide, is a major
problem in Japan which, according to the International Labor
Organization (ILO) has the highest number of employees (28.1%)
working more than 50 hours in a week. In cases that have come
to court the most common causes of death have been
cerebrovascular diseases and ischemic heart diseases. In 2005
there were almost 1,000 claims of karoshi and, suicides as a
result of overwork (karojisastu) have also risen according to
the Japanese 'Journal of Occupational Heatlh.'

However, the reports of an increase in reported cases do not
necessarily mean that the problem is getting worse, in fact,
they could be interpreted as having quite the opposite meaning.
In a paper for the journal 'Industrial Health' Japanese analysts
report that since a policy review by the Ministry of Health,
Labor and Welfare in 2005, 'the standards of overtime working
hours for the judgement of recognizing karoshi have been set
clearly in a more quantitative manner (100 overtime hours or
more for the past one month or 80 overtime hours or more per
month for the past 2 to 6 months before the onset of diseases).'
This means it is now easier to prove the case for exploitation.
In the same year, the ministry amended the Industrial Safety and
Health Law to enforce employers to find medical guidance for
employees exceeding 100 overtime hours per month as well as
forcing them to make similar provision for employees who
experience overtime work-related health problems. Such changes
have made it easier for courts to rule against corporations and
have gone some way to empowering victims against exploitative
employers.

[Continued below...]

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CORPORATE SPONSORS WELCOME
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[...Article continues]

Crucially, the awarding of damages in favor of the victim's
families, such as in the cases of the ex-Toyota employees, is
having an effect in terms of raising not only public awareness
but also corporate self-consciousness. Additionally, the
Japanese media is reporting with increasing frequency on cases
of karoshi. Misako Hida, a Japanese journalist who focuses on
labor issues was recently awarded a prize by the ILO for her
piece entitled 'The Land of Karoshi' – an article that tells
the tragic tale of a 23-year-old employee of Nikon who killed
himself in 1999 after working up to 250 hours in a month. Nikon
was forced to pay compensation to the family in 2005. The
following year the Nikon CSR report stated in its section on
employment: 'Recently, specific measures have been implemented
with the focus on prevention of health impairment due to
overwork.' At Toyota, the system of 'voluntary' overtime is also
facing some long awaited reform. In May, in the wake of the
court's decision against it, the company made a statement saying
it would expand the range of pay for overtime work.

These are only small steps and it is use true that the
hardworking corporate culture of Japan is unlikely to change
overnight, however, the legal process of holding giants like
Nikon and Toyota to account, as well as decent media coverage,
does appear to be yielding some reforms. On the other hand, any
optimism must remain cautious as Japan's labor shortage and
shrinking population could potentially act as a counter balance
to such improvements. The smaller the workforce, the harder it
has to work.

Editor-in-Chief
Peter Harris

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---------- International Business Awards Japan ------------

**J@pan Inc is pleased to announce the opening of nominations
for the International Business Awards Japan 2008**

Is your CEO or company worthy of recognition? The J@pan Inc
International Business Awards 2008 gives you the opportunity
to nominate business people and corporations you feel deserve
to win an award

HAVE YOUR SAY, GO TO http://www.japaninc.com/

CORPORATE SPONSORS WELCOME
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++END

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