Japan overtime abuse at 34 percent of companies: Karoshi

Japan overtime abuse at 34 percent of companies: Karoshi

Kanako Mita and Sawako Utsumi

Modern Tokyo Times

The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare of Japan confirmed that 34 percent of business companies investigated – out of 32,025 companies were involved in illegal overtime abuse. This figure is astonishingly high. However, it is a never-ending problem whereby workers are treated with disdain.

On-site inspections by the Ministry leave no doubt that serious legal penalties are needed to protect workers from constant abuse. Indeed, the corporate mentality – including the treatment of women – needs a complete overhaul.

NHK reports, “Inspectors found employees had worked illegal overtime at 10,986 locations. Overtime exceeding 80 hours per month was found at 4,158 locations, and 100 hours per month at 2,643 locations. In one case, 246 hours of illegal work was confirmed.”

Also, just over one in twelve of these companies refused to pay overtime for the work done. Hence, not only do you have the enormous exploitation of workers happening concerning illegal overtime, but you also have companies not even paying workers.

Lee Jay Walker says, “Shockingly, rather than the Ministry issuing fines or complete condemnation – a softly, softly approach is being taken. Thus, new guidelines resulting from these findings equate to closer guidance. Therefore, little incentive for companies to change dramatically.”

The BBC reports, “Japan is also the birthplace of karoshi – “death from overwork” – a word invented in the 1970s to describe deaths caused by work-related stresses and pressures. Unfortunately, it’s still a regular fixture in Japan’s lexicon today.”

Dentsu is a powerful company in Japan. In one famous case, Matsuri Takahashi (24 years old) committed suicide from Karoshi. She had worked 105 hours overtime only a few months before she took her life. However, the fine given to Dentsu was only 500,000 yen (less than 3,000 pounds).

Her mother (Yukimi) said, “It’s not just my daughter – tragic cases like this are happening throughout Japan, across all industries and irrespective of whether firms are large or small.” 

Reuters reports (2017), “NHK, which has covered the Dentsu case and the problem of karoshi in Japanese society extensively on air, said it had decided to disclose its own case to ensure thorough reform within the company. The reporter died of congestive heart failure after clocking 159 hours of overtime in the month before her death.”

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 once more highlighted how un-G7 Japan actually is. Hence, Japan ranked 120th out of 156 countries concerning gender parity.


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