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Editorial: Raids on Dentsu offices a warning to workaholic corporate cultures

Labor authority raids on the headquarters and three branch offices of advertising giant Dentsu Inc. on suspicion of Labor Standards Act violations serve as a warning against a Japanese corporate culture where excessive overtime work may not just be tolerated but imposed.

The authorities earlier inspected the company in connection with the overwork-induced suicide of a 24-year-old employee.

The Tokyo Labor Bureau and relevant bodies have switched to a compulsory investigation seeking criminal charges against the company. The authorities noted that other employees were forced to work overtime in excess of the upper limit set under a labor-management agreement, and that the company had failed to take corrective measures despite a warning from a labor standards inspection office for such illegal labor practices.

In 1991, an employee who was in his second year with Dentsu took his own life due to over work. It is only natural that the culture of a company that lacks a law-abiding spirit has been called into question. The Tokyo Labor Bureau should conduct a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of the working environment at the firm, where employees were being forced to work long hours.

A special team to crack down on companies that force employees to work under harsh conditions, which the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry set up in the bureau in April last year, conducted the Dentsu search this time. A special team was also simultaneously set up within the Osaka Labor Bureau.

The Tokyo team is headed by the bureau's inspection section chief and comprises seven labor standards inspectors. A special inspector for excessive work has been assigned to each regional labor bureau. A total of 47 such experts are cooperating in uncovering such illegal labor practices.

The teams at the Tokyo and Osaka bureaus are supervising and giving instructions to businesses suspected of forcing employees to work illegally long hours. They mainly target large companies that are operating across the country. Dentsu has branches and regional subsidiaries in various parts of Japan from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. Inspectors at labor bureaus across the nation have inspected the company's local offices in a bid to get to the bottom of its labor practices.

Dentsu is not the only company that is making employees work illegally long hours. The labor ministry surveyed 8,530 companies suspected of making employees work excessively long hours between April and December 2015, and confirmed illegal overtime at 4,790 of the firms. At around 60 percent of these companies, the ministry confirmed that some employees worked more than 100 hours of overtime a month.

The special team has built up a criminal case against ABC-Mart, Inc., the operator of a retail shoe chain, and major discount store operator Don Quijote Co. over illegally long hours. However, these are obviously just the tip of the iceberg.

The Labor Standards Act limits weekly work hours to 40. However, the hours can be extended to a certain extent if there is a labor-management agreement on overtime. If there is a special labor-management accord, work hours can be even further extended. Long work hours are rampant at Japanese companies largely because the Diet's failure to take strong legislative measures has effectively allowed unlimited overtime.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must prioritize amendment to the Labor Standards Act to protect company employees from excessively long hours on the job. As such, the Abe administration's so-called "working life reforms" are being tested.

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