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We Demand Rules to Regulate Employment and Workplace

photoThe National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) on April 26 held a rally: “We reject Abe’s ‘work style reform’ plan which will leave karoshi and income inequality intact and help increase disfranchised workers; we demand the establishment of rules to regulate employment and workplace.” The rally adopted the following appeal:

1. Abe government ‘plan for the implementation of workstyle reform’ will only worsen the way workers work

The government of Prime Minister ABE Shinzo on June 2, 2016 had his cabinet approved what they call the “Plan for Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens.” The plan included a “work style reform” that ostensibly will improve the treatment of contingent workers, including adoption of the principle of equal pay for equal work and the rectification of the excessively long working hours. After holding 10 meetings, the Council for the Realization of Work Style Reform on March 28, 2017 adopted a plan for the implementation of the so-called “work style reform”. Contrary to its name, however, the plan will tolerate karoshi and income gaps and allow employers to use more workers without worker rights. In sum, it is an adverse workstyle reform.

2. Implementation of plan that tolerates karoshi vs. our demands

The implementation plan enables employers to force workers to work extra hours and on holidays up to “80 hours per month for 12 straight months and up to 960 hours per year” and to force them into no more than 100 hours of overwork in a month. These are limits that will allow employers to force workers to work overtime up to the karoshi line, which is defined as: roughly 100 hours in a month before the development of illnesses, or roughly 80 hours per month for 2-6 months before the development of illnesses.

What’s more, the implementation plan says the application of the overtime limits will be suspended for five years for truck and other drivers, construction workers, doctors, workers engaged in research and development of new technologies or new products. It requires employers to make efforts to establish interval time for workers to rest.

We strongly oppose upper overtime limits set out in the implementation plan that would tolerate karoshi. We demand that regulations for upper overtime limits (on extended hours and holiday work) be 15 hours per week, 45 hours per month and 360 hours per year with punitive provisions. The same upper limits should be applied immediately to also drivers, construction workers, doctors, workers engaged in research and development of new technologies or new products. We also demand that overtime premiums be increased to effectively discourage employers from forcing workers into overtime work. We demand establishment of work interval as an institution that would require employers to give an interval of more than 11 continual work until 24 hours have lapsed since the start of work.

We demand the revocation or withdrawal of the proposal for amending the labor laws to establish a category of highly professional work and allow discretionary work schedules, which are currently applied to planning work, to be extended to other areas of work.

3. The implementation plan that would overlook and perpetuate the unequal treatment of full-time regular workers and contingent workers vs. our demands

Concerning the “equal pay for equal work” principle, the implementation plan says that differences of norms and rules for the payment of basic wages and benefits must not be unreasonable in the light of duty, the scope of changes in duty or assignment and any other objective and concrete conditions. This suggests nothing new because it will continue to condone and even perpetuate the gaps between permanent workers and contingent workers on the grounds that there can be differences of the scope of changes in duties and jobs. It will also require the worker to bear the burden of proof to show. This is the concept employed by the government in seeking to revise the Part-time Workers Act, the Labor Contracts Act, and the Worker Dispatching Act.

We demand that the provision on “changes in the duty and job assignment and other reasons” be deleted from the criteria for judgment on irrationality defined in the Labor Contracts Act’s Article 20 and the Part-time Workers Act’s Article 8 and that the employer bear the burden of proof to justify discrepancies regarding the working conditions and workers’ treatment.

We demand that amendments be made to the Part-time Workers Act or the Labor Contracts Act to establish the principle of equal pay for work of equal value and the employer’s obligation to bear the burden of proof to justify the discrepancies of payment. We demand that amendments to the Worker Dispatching Act establish provisions to ensure that temporary agency workers receive equal treatment as the permanent workers doing the same work.

We demand that the principle of equal pay for equal work be established when amendments are made to the Labor Standards Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, Labor Contracts Act, the Part-time Workers Act, and/or the Worker Dispatching Act.

4. The implementation plan that overlooks the current minimum wage levels increasing poverty and widening income gaps

The implementation plan says, “The minimum wage will be raised 3 percent per year in line with GDP growth rates so that its weighted national average will reach 1,000 yen per hour. But a three percent increase a year will mean raising the minimum wage to a weighted national average of 1,000 yen only in 2023. Working at hourly wage of 1,000 yen, one will earn only 2,085,000 yen even by working 2,085 hours per year (260 eight-hour days), the legal upper limit to working hours.

The nation’s highest minimum wage is Tokyo’s 932 yen. Miyazaki’s and Okinawa’s minimum wage is the lowest at 714 yen. The difference is 218 yen. Yet, the minimum cost of living is almost equal everywhere throughout the country. People of lower minimum wage areas are likely to move to higher minimum wage areas. The minimum wage gaps cause adverse impacts on local economies.

We want a uniform minimum wage nationwide. We demand the minimum wage be increased now to at least 1,000 yen per hour with a view to raising it further to 1,500 yen.

5. Implementation plan that will deprive more workers of their rights and our demands

The implementation plan is supposed to “pursue a society in which people will have diverse and flexible work options. It is also designed to expand opportunities for contingent workers under innovated guidelines for non-employee telework. But diverse and flexible ways of work is inseparable from depriving workers of their rights as clear from what workers are experiencing with low-paying precarious fixed-term employees or temps. Contingent workers are deprived of all their rights.

We demand that the use of fixed-term labor and temporary agency workers be limited to temporary jobs and that regular permanent employment be taken as a matter of course. The worker’s subordination to the employer must not be overlooked. We are against expanding the outsourcing of jobs to independent contractors and the further increase in the use of workers as independent contractors. We demand the strict application of the Labor Standards Law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, and other labor protection laws.

6. Solidarity and joint struggle

As stated above, the implementation plan overlooks employers forcing workers into overtime up to karoshi line, tolerates and even perpetuates the gaps of treatment between regular full-time workers and contingent workers, leaves the low minimum wage increasing poverty and widening income gaps intact, and increases the number of workers who are left without rights. We cannot allow this plan to be put into practice.

We will continue to work in solidarity with the nation’s workers and all people to demand the establishment of humane workplace rules: regulate overtime work to 15 hours per week, 45 hours per month, and 360 hours per year; equal pay for equal work; a uniform minimum wage nationwide and a minimum wage of 1,500 yen per hour; and a society in which permanent direct employment as a matter of course. We call for common action to achieve these goals.

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