KOGA Says! RENGO's Statement by General Secretary

On the Report by the MHLW “Study Group for Future Working Hours”

25 January 2006
RENGO’s Statement by General Secretary Koga
  1. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s “Study Group for FutureWorking Hours” (chaired by Professor Yasuo Suwa, Hosei University) heldits final study meeting on January 25 and finalized its outline report.The report recommends (1) allowing workers to take annual leaves by thehour, (2) raising premium wage rates when compensatory holidays or overtimeworks exceed certain extra hours, and examining other alternative measuresto improve the acquisition rate of annual leave and curbing overtimework. However, at the heart of the report is a proposal for introducing “newautonomous working hour systems.”

  2. In its introduction, the report states that the introduction of an American-styleWhite Collar Exemption, which has been called for by business leadersand the Cabinet Office’s Council for Promotion of Regulatory Reform,would not be appropriate for Japan. Nevertheless, the “new autonomousworking hour systems” proposed in the report are intended to guarantee thatworkers who “work autonomously and should properly be evaluated based ontheir achievements and competence rather than the length of working hours,”can “opt, without concern, and be allowed to work with a greater degree offreedom and with increased flexibility by removing them from the frameworkof working hour restrictions.” The intent of the new system is to expandthe scope of workers exempted from working hour restrictions when they meetthe requirements for specified working patterns and minimum annual incomes,and when they themselves agree to work under the new system, with the provisionthat they receive physical checkups, that they are assured of certain annualpaid holidays, and that these requirements and conditions are secured bylabour-management consultations. However, the existing working hour systemhas already become adequately elastic and flexible as it has been incorporatedwith the discretionary labour (free time) system, the irregular working hoursystem and the flex time system, so we find it difficult to understand theneed for new working hour systems now.

  3. Looking at the current situation of working hours, one immediately notesthe fact that the portion of workers who work more than 60 hours a weekis rising, and that the growing stress, worsening mental health, andincrease in deaths due to overwork, including suicides, have become serioussocial problems. Under these circumstances, any expansion of the scopeof exemptions from working hour restrictions could lead to the abandonmentof “the reproduction of labour power,” which is one of the objectives ofthe working hour regulations now in effect. “New autonomous working hoursystems” will clearly lead to unregulated overwork and the promotion of longerworking hours, and RENGO believes the introduction of the system poses seriousquestions.

  4. In response to the submission of this report, the MHLW Workshop forWorking Conditions will likely discuss an overhaul of the existing workinghour laws in parallel with discussions on the labour contract laws thatare now in effect. The expected overhaul of the existing working hourlegislations will serve to improve conditions regarding violations of theworking hour laws and regulations, including the prevalence of unpaid overtimework and inappropriate administration regarding overhead personnel, and bymitigating long working hours through revisions of the preferential measuresspecified in Article 40 of the Labour Standards Law and an increase in thestatutory premium wage rates, to assure workers of a working hour systemthat enables them to continue working in good health and satisfaction. Inthis regard, in preparation for the debates in the MHLW Labour Reform Commission,RENGO will formulate a policy for working hour regulation through anexchange of opinions with affiliates.