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Labor authorities raid Dentsu offices over suicide of female worker

Officials of the Tokyo Labor Bureau and the Mita Labor Standards Inspection Office raid the head office of advertising giant Dentsu Inc. in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Nov. 7, 2016. (Mainichi)

Labor authorities on Nov. 7 raided the headquarters and three branch offices of advertising giant Dentsu Inc. in connection with the overwork-induced suicide of a female employee late last year, the company said.

The Tokyo Labor Bureau of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and other organizations searched the firm's head office in Tokyo's Minato Ward and its three branch offices in Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya on suspicion of violation of the Labor Standards Act.

"It is true that we've been raided. We will fully cooperate with the investigation," said a Dentsu representative.

Matsuri Takahashi, 24, who joined Dentsu in April 2015, took her own life in December after working excessive overtime. While labor authorities earlier conducted on-site inspections at those offices last month under the same law, they apparently decided that they needed to preserve evidence in order to send the case to prosecutors and seek criminal punishment of Dentsu and the officials responsible for personnel affairs -- instead of just issuing an advisory to rectify the situation.

On Oct. 14, the Tokyo Labor Bureau and other entities embarked on surprise inspections on Dentsu's headquarters as well as its three branch offices and five regional subsidiaries. Suspecting that the ad agency may have forced long work hours on Takahashi and other employees, authorities have been analyzing labor management documents submitted by the company on a voluntary basis.

While Dentsu's labor-management agreement had set maximum overtime at 70 hours a month, the Tokyo Labor Bureau and other organizations suspect that longer overtime was rampant at the agency. Labor authorities went ahead with the raid on Nov. 7 after obtaining court warrants for search and seizure in an apparent attempt to gather evidence on illegal overtime practices that would otherwise be difficult to obtain through voluntary submission of corporate documents.

In the wake of the on-site inspections, Dentsu updated its labor-management agreement and announced that it had reduced the maximum overtime to 65 hours a month starting November. The company on Oct. 24 also began to turn all lights out at 10 p.m. at its head and branch offices to prevent overtime work. On Nov. 1, the ad agency launched a task force headed by President Tadashi Ishii to reform the work environment and pledged to revamp its labor management policy.

Labor standards inspectors are granted the right to investigate and the right to arrest. Last year, inspectors investigated about 70 cases over suspected violations of the Labor Standards Act, according to the labor ministry.

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