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Society will be 'monitoring' Dentsu for illegal overtime: judge

Yukimi Takahashi, the mother of Matsuri Takahashi, who took her own life due to excessive overtime while working at Dentsu Inc., gives a post-verdict press conference at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Oct. 6, 2017. (Mainichi)

Cries for greater measures against overwork continue after advertising giant Dentsu Inc. was fined 500,000 yen (about $4,400) on Oct. 6 for illegal overtime practices that resulted in the suicide of one of its employees in 2015.

The bereaved relatives of the late employee, Matsuri Takahashi, as well as experts have stated that laws need to be developed to eradicate overwork-induced deaths, and that there needs to be further discussion within society toward reducing working hours.

In the Dentsu case, Presiding Judge Tsutomu Kikuchi read his decision to company President Toshihiro Yamamoto, as Takahashi's mother, 54-year-old Yukimi, looked on.

"Society as a whole will be monitoring your company to see if you achieve your (work reform) goals as planned, and to see if you continue to maintain such goals beyond that," Kikuchi said.

Kikuchi took about 10 minutes to read out the verdict condemning Dentsu's "way of working" -- which ultimately led to Takahashi's suicide at age 24. The judge added, "There are probably some people out there who are skeptical that Dentsu will be able to achieve its work reforms properly, and reach its business performance goals at the same time. However, as a firm that represents both Japan and the advertising industry, it is desirable that Dentsu adequately fulfill its role within society." Yamamoto nodded in response.

Shortly after the verdict had been handed down, the Dentsu chief told reporters, "As the president of the company, it is my duty to ensure that we achieve our work reform goals. Work reform is a much more important issue than a possible drop in business performance."

Yukimi also gave a press conference in Tokyo following the ruling, touching on the overwork death of an NHK reporter which recently came to light. Yukimi went on to say, "The government must recognize this abnormal situation that creates so many victims. I want the labor laws to be amended so that death due to overwork can be eradicated."

Hiroshi Kawahito, a lawyer representing Takahashi's mother, stated, "The fact that a firm has been found guilty in a criminal trial, and not just through an examination of documents, is a hugely significant and historical step for our society." Kawahito continued, "The fine amount is low from the layman's point of view. However, with this verdict, I think we have managed to shake up attitudes toward sanctions on labor violations."

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