Stop the attempt to destroy laws to protect workers
On December 27, the government Labor Policy Council’s group discussing the issue of working conditions compiled two reports about the future labor-related laws, one concerning “labor contract” and the other concerning “working hour regulation” despite objection raised by members representing labor and small- and medium-sized businesses. This marks the beginning of a total war on the laws that protect the workers’ interests and rights.
Work-time legislation intended to legalize unpaid overtime work will cause more karoshi (deaths from overwork)
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has said that a review of the laws regulating working hours is aimed at restraining long working hours in order to prevent karoshi and raise the nation’s low birth rate.
However, the Labor Policy Council report shows little interest in the need to impose stricter upper limits on working hours, raise the rate of extra pay for overtime work, and to make it easier for workers to use the paid holidays. On average, workers use less than 50 percent of their paid holidays. On these issues, the report at best calls on labor and management to make their respective efforts.
In contrast, the report puts forward in detail a plan to gut the present working hour regulation, including the so-called “system that fits in with a style of work that gives workers more freedom.” It says that assistant section chiefs and chief clerks can be exempt from working hour regulation, which means that they can be forced to work overtime without pay. This system will make it possible for employers to force them to work 24 hours a day for almost a month (on condition that they have a right to more than four days off in four weeks, and more than 104 days off a year). It will not only legalize unpaid overtime work but force those mid-managers who have no right to control workloads to do a mount of work. This will inevitably exacerbate the problem of long working hours. It is indeed a “Law to Promote Death from Overwork.”
What’s more, if a worker died from overwork, this worker will be held responsible for the mismanagement of his or her work-time, and there can be no payment of work-related accident insurance benefit.
Wider application of discretionary work schedule for clerical staff
In addition, working hours for clerical staff will be left without regulation by introducing the “discretionary work schedule” system. Under the present law, discretionary work schedule can be applied only to the head office or places of work that would have considerable impact on the management and operation of the company. It is also limited to workers assigned to such areas as planning, investigation and analysis. The report is calling for the expansion of the scope of the application of the discretionary work schedule system and for the procedure to introduce the system to be eased.
Proposed labor contract legislation will enable employers to arbitrarily change working conditions
The proposed labor contract legislation is very dangerous in that it can use office regulation, which employers can arbitrarily impose on workers, to change working conditions at their will in violation of the principle of contract.
The panel report says whether a change in office regulation is reasonable or not will be judged in light of judicial precedents. Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry documents show that the real intention is to lower the standards of judicial precedents. In the drafting of the bill, it is likely that formal procedure will be regarded as enough for such decision, such as a labor-management committee decision, consent of a majority of trade unions, or depending on labor-management consultation. Another possibility is that individual worker’s consent is used to justify the change in office regulation. After all, this legislation is aimed at giving employers a right to change working conditions in a way that exclusively benefit employers.
Freedom to fire workers
Concerning the proposed system to allow a monetary settlement to be applied to disputes over unfair dismissals, the report states, “Continued discussion is appropriate.” This means that they have not given up the idea of establishing a system allowing money power to be used to settle dismissal-related disputes. This can lead to abuses of the employers’ right to dismiss workers.
While one undemocratic law is proposed after another, the panel gives the cold shoulder to the demands of unions and panel members representing labor.
The panel has had very little discussion about the most important tasks in the present-day Japanese society: the scope of being a worker, regulation of contracts on fixed-term employment, the principle of equal treatment of workers regardless of type of employment, the confirmation of the same-job-the-same-pay principle, the employers’ duty to pay due attention to job safety, legislation of the four requirements for dismissals, and the establishment of workers’ right to seek jobs. (From Zenroren, January 15, 2007 issue) “