Zenroren protests against enactment of ‘work style reform’
Acting Secretary General of the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
Today (June 29,2018), the “work style reform” bill initiated by Prime Minister ABE Shinzo’s government was enacted after passage in the House of Councilors. The legislation will promote karoshi, or deaths from overwork, by eliminating working time regulations for highly skilled and high-paid professionals and by subjecting workers to harsh orders. Opposition has been raised by all labor organizations, the legal community, the national association of families on karoshi, and a large number of citizens. But opposition was ignored by the government, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic and Komeito parties, the Japan Innovation Party, the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), and most government-kept scholars. The Labor Standards Act has been gutted. The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) lodges a strong protest against the legislation.
The “highly-skilled, high-paid professionals” system has no provisions to enable workers to do their jobs at their discretion, making it legal for employers to keep employees working 24 hours over 48 straight days. Workers could legally be forced to work 6,000 hours per year.
The government has argued that the proposed system will allow employees to work by regulating themselves, but that’s wrong. In proposing the legislation, the government insisted that the measure meets the needs of the workers, but this argument has been proven false in the course of the parliamentary deliberations.
The legislation says that the employers are responsible for health management for the workers but it cannot be used to support a claim of compensation for work-related diseases or injuries. In dealing with such claims, the Labor Standards Inspection Office will have to trace the hours worked afterwards based on records kept on the personal computer or testimonies by colleagues.
An annual salary applicable to recognize a worker as a high-paid professional will include commuting and other allowances. A monthly salary can be set at the employer’s disposal at a level that does not go against the minimum wage. All these issues have been raised by opposition parties. The problem is that the legislation has been railroaded through without needs shown. The new system allows employers to force employees to work overtime without pay. It could help deny compensation for work-related diseases, injuries, or karoshi by regarding that the worker must be responsible for such accidents. Such a system for “highly skilled, high-paid professionals” is absolutely unacceptable. We will continue to fight to repeal it.
Regarding holiday and extra hours of work, it was revealed in the course of Diet deliberations that workers could be forced to work 160 hours if they work overtime mostly at the beginning and the end of the month. The new system makes it possible for employers to force workers long hours of overtime that exceeds the karoshi line. This is contrary to what the government has explained. Upper limits on holiday work should be lowered to a level that would not cause health problems.
The law on employment of contingent workers (fixed-term, part-time workers) and the law on temporary agency workers have also been amended. These laws affirm pay gaps between permanent workers and contingent workers depending on how manpower is utilized into the future. Wage gaps can be affirmed between permanent and contingent workers doing equal work. This must be amended immediately. The law on employment policy was part of the legislation. The “Comprehensive Law on the Promotion of Labor Policies” makes clear that the aim of labor policy is to help improve labor productivity and encourages the promotion of the work style without workers being employed and therefore without being protected by labor law. This is how the labor protection laws are gutted, and more workers will be forced to work without worker rights. This part of the legislation also must be repealed.
Zenroren has been fighting against the Abe administration’s “work style reforms” by organizing various kinds of actions in cooperation with other labor organizations and citizens’ groups. Our struggle does not end even after the bad legislation was enacted. We are now continuing the struggle targeting the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s Labor Policy Council meeting to discuss governmental and ministerial ordinances and guidelines for implementing the “work style reform” policies. Our efforts will be directed at repealing the bad law and realizing genuine work style reforms by increasing activities to protect the workplace from the bad laws.
Labor law is a product of the struggle of world’s workers. The Abe administration’s adverse change of labor law to force workers to work even harder is an attempt to deal a blow to labor law. It needs to be scrapped by the Japanese workers’ struggle to win a labor policy to protect the workers. Zenroren is determined to make every effort to achieve a society in which people can live a decent life if they work 8 hours a day. We will use the internationally recognized labor standards to develop cross-current labor cooperation based on the experience we earned in the recent years. We will also develop joint struggle with the citizens’ movement, including the association of families on karoshi, as well as the opposition parties that voted against the work-style reform bills.