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News Navigator: Why do Japanese teachers work so much overtime?

The long hours spent at work by Japan's schoolteachers have become an issue in recent months. The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about teachers' workloads.

Question: Teachers' working hours have become a big issue, haven't they?

Answer: Indeed they have. Last academic year, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology discovered that regular junior high school teachers were working an average of 63 hours and 18 minutes per week -- quite a ways over the 40-hour workweek specified under Japan's Labor Standards Act. The ministry found that nearly 60 percent of junior high teachers were putting in 80 hours-plus of overtime per month -- the so-called "karoshi" (death from overwork) line. About 30 percent of primary school teachers were doing the same.

Q: Wouldn't spending so much time at work normally become an illegal overtime issue?

A: Under the Act on Special Measures Concerning Salaries and Other Conditions for Education Personnel of Public Compulsory Education Schools, principals and other management-level staff can only order teachers to do overtime in special circumstances, like school trips or during disasters. Furthermore, if a teacher stays longer hours at school because they have a lot of work to do, it is treated as voluntary and not counted as overtime.

When a teacher cannot agree to this treatment, they can file a report with their prefectural personnel committee or municipal mayor. However, there are no provisions for forced inspections like the ones local labor standards inspection offices conduct on private firms, and so virtually no "overtime work incidents" have come to light at schools.

Q: So, aren't teachers paid for their overtime hours?

A: Teaching involves doing a lot outside of classrooms, and it's considered a job that requires significant personal initiative and creativity. Thus, every teacher gets an extra 4 percent of their pay on top of their standard salary. However, they can't get anything beyond that. The 4 percent top-up was set in 1966, based on an education ministry study that showed teachers did an average of eight hours of overtime per month.

Q: That's a lot less than they do now, isn't it?

A: Teachers have to spend a lot more time in class and supervising school clubs than they used to, and more recently they have also been faced with the bullying problem. Yet, their salary system remains unchanged. There is also little enthusiasm in school management for examining the overtime situation, so there are very few schools that have got a handle on working hours. It may be time to re-evaluate the law governing public school teachers' wages and other working conditions. (Answers by Takuya Izawa, Tokyo City News Department)

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