Give up creation of category of ‘highly-skilled professionals’ and broader application of discretionary working system
By HASHIGUCHI Norishio
Deputy Secretary General
National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
At workshop against ABE workstyle reform: we say NO to overtime limits that would tolerate “karoshi”
It is reported that regulatory measures under the Labor Standards Act and laws pertaining to working hours are being eased. This follows an agreement reached by the government of Prime Minister ABE Shinzo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) to create a category of highly-skilled professionals and broaden the application of the discretionary working hour system for project business workers. At a time when eradicating deaths from overwork and rectifying excessively long working hours is an important task to be tackled by the national government, what we need most is measures to strengthen the regulation of working time. We therefore strongly demand that the tripartite panel of government, labor and business representatives revoke the agreement on easing the regulation of working time and reaffirm the principle of eight-hour day.
The regulation of working time will not be applied to workers classified as highly-skilled professionals under the new system, which allow employers to hire workers on a contract without key provisions to protect workers. It will only help reduce employers’ responsibility for the employees. The proposed amendments to the Labor Standards Act would apply the highly-skilled professionals system only to those professional workers whose earn a certain rate of income. But how ambiguous the definition of “professionals” is! There is plenty of room for grey-zone problems to arise. As regards the requirement for annual income levels, the government and the business sector are even suggesting “taking small first steps for future growth.” They are even aiming at lowering the threshold of income levels required to be classified as “highly-skilled professionals.”
Employees do not have discretion over business or personnel affairs. If the regulation of working time is removed, workers will be forced into longer working hours without limits. Some media describe the proposed system as a “performance-based” system. This is wrong since nothing has been discussed to establish provisions ensuring worker compensation for work that matches job performance. It is also reported that amending the bill will be considered to make it obligation to give workers 104 holidays a year. But a measure that would just guarantee a five-day week is far from preventing health from being damaged at the workplace where employers can force workers as long as they want.
The discretionary working system is a system in which workers are paid only for a certain amount of time he or she is supposed to have worked, no matter how long the worker has worked. Look at those workers who are actually under the discretionary working system, you will find that in many cases workers are forced to work much longer hours than they are supposed to. The bill would change area of application of the discretionary working system for project business workers to “sales of proposals dedicated to problem solution” and “job of utilizing discretion- based PDCA (plan, do, check and act) approaches”. But the concept is so ambiguous that employers could broaden area of application of this approach. It is feared that the system could allow employers to broaden area of workers to be worked as much as possible just by the employer’s decision. It would be worse than the highly-skilled professional workers system.
Both the highly-skilled professional workers system and the discretionary working system will only help reduce the employers’ responsibility and their responsibility to properly manage working time. Workers would be forced to work overtime for nothing and they are to blame for their own death from overwork. It’s a policy that goes against many workers and their families who are calling for the eradication of death from overwork and the rectification of excessively long working hours.
Prime Minister Abe once said, “I will make the effort to rectify the excessively long working hours with determination to stop the recurrence of a tragedy of death from overwork.” What did he mean by this expression of determination? We must reject any adverse working time reform that makes the prime minister’s promise dubious.
Zenroren calls on all workers to participate in joint struggle for the common demands including the withdrawal of the proposed creation of a highly-skilled professional working system and expansion of the discretionary working system, for the revocation of the measure allowing a maximum of 100 hours of overtime a month, and for stronger working time regulations.