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Diet set to enact modified work-style reform bill during current session

TOKYO -- The Diet is set to enact a bill to reform the way people work, a key issue during the ongoing regular Diet session, as the ruling coalition and the opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) have agreed to modify the proposed legislation.

During talks on the bill on May 18, Nippon Ishin proposed to the ruling bloc to revise a clause under which high-income, highly professional workers would be exempted from regulations on work hours to better respect such workers' will. Specifically, the opposition party proposed to allow highly professional workers, who earlier agreed that the system would apply to them, to subsequently withdraw from the agreement if they desire to do so.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry had considered incorporating a clause on the way workers would withdraw their agreement in ministry rules to be attached to the proposed legislation.

The governing bloc comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito is expected to officially agree with Nippon Ishin as early as May 21 to revise the bill as proposed by the opposition party.

After talks with the ruling parties, Nippon Ishin also consulted with the opposition Party of Hope over the issue. The Party of Hope, which has expressed support for the revisions proposed by Nippon Ishin, is poised to vote in favor of the modified bill in the Diet.

The ruling coalition aims to have the work-style reform bill clear the House of Representatives' Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare on May 23 and a plenary session as early as May 24 before sending it to the House of Councillors.

"Our consultations with Ishin over revisions to the bill have gone smoothly. We'll aim to have it clear the lower chamber on May 24," said a senior member of the LDP.

However, the passage of the bill through a lower house plenary session could be delayed until May 29 depending on how opposition parties critical of the bill will respond to the revisions. Still, it is widely viewed as certain that the bill will become law by the June 20 end of the ongoing regular Diet session.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regards the bill as the most important issue during the ongoing Diet session.

In February, however, flawed data was found in a survey that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry conducted on the working hours of regular workers and those working under the discretionary labor system, under which workers are rewarded based on fixed overtime work instead of actual labor hours.

The executive branch of the government removed clauses on the expansion of such a labor system from the bill before submitting it to the legislature in April.

The introduction of the highly professional workers' system and regulations on overtime with punitive clauses and ensuring equal pay for equal jobs are the main pillars of the bill.

Opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, are demanding that the highly professional workers' system be deleted from the bill on the grounds that such a system could lead to long work hours for employees subject to the system and an increase in the number of deaths from overwork.

(Japanese original by Akira Murao, Political News Department, and Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department)

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