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Labor reform bill's 'professional system' criticized for promoting death by overwork

Emiko Teranishi makes her statement at a meeting of the House of Representatives Health, Labor and Welfare Committee on May 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The representative of a national group of bereaved families against "karoshi," or death by overwork, had sharp words for the House of Representatives Health, Labor and Welfare Committee reviewing a package of legislation related to labor reforms during a session here on May 22.

"The legislation carries an extremely high risk of promoting the long hours that lead to karoshi. It is designed to make working to death the individual's responsibility," criticized Emiko Teranishi, representative of the "Zenkoku Karoshi o Kangaeru Kazoku no Kai" (National association of families considering death by overwork). The system to which she was referring is the contentious "high level professional system" in the new legislation that would see specialists in certain areas with high incomes exempt from upper limits on working hours.

"Employers will become exempt from the responsibility of keeping track of employee working hours, so even if someone dies due to overwork, having the case be certified as a work-related death will be nearly impossible. The number of bereaved families who are suffering hopelessly in silence and are left destitute will only grow," Teranishi also pointed out, requesting that the professional system be excluded from the draft of the laws.

Japanese Trade Union Confederation (JTUC-Rengo) President Rikio Kozu agreed, stating, "The pro system will lead to the promotion of overwork," while National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) vice chairman Yuji Iwahashi said, "We must say the system is modern slavery."

On the other hand, Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) Labor Legislation Bureau Director Shinobu Wajima said, "The legislation is designed to boost options for flexible working styles, so workers can fully exercise their creativity. This is a reform to match the changing times." Hosei University professor Kazumasa Oguro also said, "The professional system will only be applied to a fraction of the workforce. The bill has also been amended so that an individual can choose to opt out," among other positive comments.

"Increasing ways to work independently is extremely important," said Japan Research Institute Ltd. Counselor Hisashi Yamada. "However, it is also necessary to come up with measures so that the system is operated appropriately."

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department)

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