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Editorial: Ruling parties' campaign silence on work-style reform troubling

Political parties and candidates in the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election have failed to proactively debate the work-style reform bill during the campaign. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito did not even include a bill on a pay system for highly professional workers, which opposition parties criticize as a "zero overtime pay bill," in their respective campaign pledges.

The failure of the ruling parties to make the bill a core campaign issue is proof of their insincerity, as the matter will certainly be a focus of Diet deliberations following the general election.

The biggest problem involving the bill is that it would introduce not only regulations that would protect workers from excessive overtime, but also a system that could end up encouraging employers to force some employees to work longer hours. The proposed legislation includes a merit-based salary system without overtime pay for some high-income, highly professional workers such as those involved in financial technology and trading, consultants and researchers.

It is true that work hours of those in such highly creative jobs are not proportional to their achievements. It is more rational for such highly professional workers to determine their work hours and the content of their work on their own, and have their wages set according to their achievements.

However, the custom of employers placing even such highly professional workers under their control has taken root in Japan. Therefore, if employers set high performance targets for their professionals and introduce a merit-based pay system, these workers' hours would obviously grow longer to achieve those targets.

Under the current bill, such a merit-based salary system would apply only to those with an annual income of at least 10.75 million yen. However, concerns remain that restrictions on the system's application based on income or occupation type will eventually be relaxed.

Moreover, the scope of a discretionary labor system, under which employees' wages are determined based on the assumption that they work certain hours, would be widened.

It is feared that a growing number of employees will be required to achieve certain goals without overtime allowances, no matter how long they spend on the job.

Organizations that are supposed to support workers lack stability. The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) was initially opposed to the bill. However, after the government complied with Rengo's demand that employers be obligated to secure at least 104 days off a year for their employees, the labor organization accepted the bill.

The largest opposition Democratic Party, which had been opposed to the merit-based salary system for highly professional workers, has split up. The newly founded opposition Party of Hope has not clarified whether it supports the system.

Under the bill, employers would be required to gain approval from their respective labor-management panels and consent from workers themselves before introducing a merit-based wage system for professionals. However, Japan's trade union membership ratio is less than 20 percent.

The reform plan could drastically change the way Japanese people work. In particular, the reform would have an impact on young people on the verge of joining the workforce. Younger generations should choose to vote for candidates and political parties after closely examining each party's policy on the issue.

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