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Overtime Working Hours in Japan

Yoka Kondo

February 27, 2019


In recent Japan, overtime work normally exists and many people have died from it. People have many opinions about work-life balance and overtime work. Now is a turning point of Japan to change working style. How do you think Japan will deal with this problem?


Current Situation of Overtime


Japan’s annual total working time has been declining. (see Figure 1) However, the working hours of only full-time workers does not change as before. It is said full-time workers have to work longer because of the increase of part-time workers who do not work over time (see Figure 2). Japan’s annual average working time is longer than to the ones of European countries (see Figure 3). Ratio of overtime worker (more than 40 hours per week) is also high. In particular, Ratio of people working for more than 49 hours is very high (see Figure 4)


Figure 1: Trends of Annual Total Working Hours by All Types of Employees

Source: Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare


Figure 2: Total Working Hours of Full-Time Worker


Source: Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare


Figure 3: Annual Average Working Hours


Source: The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training “Datebook of International Labour Statistics 2016”


Figure 4: Composition Ratio of Long Time Working Employee (Weekly Working Hour)


Source: The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training “Datebook of International Labour Statistics 2016” 


Working Hours Stipulated in Japanese Labor Law


According to the Japanese Labor Law, working hours are stipulated as below.

Japanese Labor Law protects the workers by limiting working hour including overtime work. In the article 32 of Labor Standards Acts, “an employer shall not have a worker work more than 40 hours per week” and “an employer shall not have a worker work more than 8 hours per day for each day of the week”.

   Despite this clause, why can people work so long time? It is because of Article 36, saying “in the event that the employer has entered into a written agreement either with a labor union…or with a person representing a majority of the workers…, the employer may…extend the working hours or have workers work on days off…”. This actually allows companies to set the limitless overtime working hours to their employee, if they get a written agreement with their employees. It is called “saburoku kyotei” (three-six agreement).

   Many people point out the need for revising or eliminating the Article 36. In June 2018, the labor reform package was approved in the Diet. This has the legal limitation on overtime working hour at 100 hours per month and 720 hours annually. However, 58.6% of Japanese employees work for more than 40 hours per week in 2016. (see Figure 3) This new law needs to be useful? Meanful? cap and companies need to deal with it.

The Reason Why People Do Overtime and the Problem

According to the research conducted in 2018 by the Mynavi, Japanese job information company, 64.9% of workers who have worked overtime do not want to do it. However, there are some reasons why they have to work overtime. They cannot finish all tasks within the scheduled working hours. Moreover, some sudden tasks often appear. In many cases, they do not want to bring the rest of tasks the next day. Another reason they do overtime is to compensate for their original payment to cover their living costs.

   Of course, overtime working causes many problems. They cannot spend time for hobby, housework, and their spouse and children. Overtime payment is not even paid to some of workers. It is called “Sa-bisu zangyo” (off-the-clock work without payment) in Japanese. The most serious problem of too much overtime working is mental stress and tiredness of workers. They cannot have enough time to sleep and when it continues for longer period, over time working leads people to death.


Effort by Companies


In recent years, many companies have been working on this situation to improve the labor environment. For example, Kokuyo, a Japanese stationary company, enhance time-effectiveness by forcibly turning off the office lighting at 7 p.m., recommending standing meeting, and limiting use of conference room up to 2 hours. In this case, these efforts to reduce electricity consumption also connected with a step to reduce overtime working. (Source)


A Big Step For the Future?


Probably, long working style had rationale for old Japanese and it was formulated with well consideration. But, in the 21st century, there are many problems in this practice. Now, Japanese government has started reform. This movement will be a big step for future Japan.

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