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Olympic stadium worker's suicide due to alleged excessive overtime linked to shady practice

The new National Stadium, now under construction in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, is pictured on July 23, 2017. (Mainichi)

A man involved in construction work for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics who took his own life apparently due to overwork was reporting less overtime hours than he actually carried out, allegedly subtracting hours for days off in lieu, it has been learned.

Even though the 23-year-old man was working well over the limit of 80 hours of overtime per month, he was subtracting the extra hours as planned days off in lieu that he never took to make his overtime appear to be under 80 hours on paper. This method for recording overtime is said to be a long-time practice at his company, and experts are criticizing it as a way to hide illegal amounts of overtime.

The man began work at the new National Stadium construction site around mid-December last year. On March 2, 2017, he went missing after phoning a colleague to say that he had overslept and would be late for work. His body was discovered a month later in Nagano Prefecture on April 15.

The man was an employee of a subcontractor company of major construction firm Taisei Corp., which is tasked with building the new National Stadium. The president and others at the subcontractor told the Mainichi Shimbun that they had reached a labor-management agreement which limited overtime to no more than 45 hours a month in principle, and less than 80 hours a month in special cases. The man had declared his overtime work for December 2016 and January 2017 at 79.5 hours, respectively. He had yet to declare his overtime for February.

However, a survey conducted by a special investigative panel of outside specialists found that the man had actually worked 86 hours of overtime in December, 115 hours in January and 193 hours in February. According to the president and others at the subcontractor firm, the man had subtracted planned days off in lieu from his overtime hours in order to arrive at his declared numbers. The practice was not uncommon at the firm, according to the probe, and 26 other colleagues were using the same method to record their overtime under the limits. The direct superior of the man who took his own life was well aware that he was not actually making use of the days off in lieu he had accumulated.

The special investigative panel reportedly declared the situation as underreporting overtime hours. The president of the subcontractor company told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We are deeply reflecting on the incident. We would like to re-examine our labor management system so that a situation like this never happens again."

"This is one example of how imprecise records of overtime are in the construction industry," said professor emeritus Koji Morioka of Kansai University, who specializes in "karoshi," or death by overwork. "The subcontractor firm deserves accusations that it manipulated overtime hours so they were within the limits on paper. It could probably be called 'forced-reporting' masquerading as self-reporting."

Meanwhile, a representative for the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare's labor standards inspection division stated, "Self-reported overtime hour systems such as this are not desirable."

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