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Education Ministry plans variable working hours for teachers to cut overtime

TOKYO -- The education ministry will present a plan to manage the work hours of teachers on an annual basis with seasonal adjustments in a bid to cut overtime, according to people familiar with the arrangement.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will shortly submit a draft of the new work hour management method to a special subcommittee of the Central Council for Education in which discussions are underway on work-style reforms for teachers.

Under the new system, teachers' maximum daily working hours would be extended from 8 to 10 during busy periods, such as spring or the end of the academic year, while the cap would be lowered during the summer vacation or other relatively quiet periods to make it easier to set days off.

The variable working hour system is stipulated in the Labor Standards Act, and allows employers to increase or decrease daily working hours during a month or a year as far as the daily average during the specific period is eight hours. When the adjustments are made during a one year period, there would be months with longer than the standard eight hour work day or months with shorter work hour days. The system is said to make it easier for workers to take days off. It is often used in industries such as manufacturing or accommodation businesses with distinctively busy and quiet seasons.

The Labor Standards Act covers teachers, but the annual variable working hour system is not applied to them under the special law governing the salary of teachers. The education ministry intends to revise the special law so that the boards of education and schools can set flexible working hours.

An education ministry survey revealed that during fiscal 2016, 60 percent of public junior high school teachers and 30 percent of public elementary school teachers had more than 80 hours overtime a month, entering into a realm of excessive working hours where "karoshi," or death from overwork, can occur.

Some experts point out that this current situation is a product of the uniform working hours of eight hours per day despite the fact that teachers have periods where they are extremely busy such as the beginning of the academic year in April or the end of semesters when they have to grade students' performances.

(Japanese original by Takuya Izawa, City News Department)

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