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Labor ministry wants Japan firms to guarantee workers time off between shifts

TOKYO -- To help prevent death from overwork or "karoshi," the labor ministry wants at least 10 percent of Japan's companies to implement by 2020 guaranteed breaks of a set length between when an employee finishes one shift and starts the next.

This "work interval system" implementation target was part of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare's proposed Outline for Measures to Prevent Karoshi revisions, presented to a conference of the families of overwork death victims, and representatives from labor and management.

The outline is mandated by 2014's "Act on Promotion of Measures for Karoshi, etc. Prevention," and was first launched by a July 2015 Cabinet decision. The revisions announced on May 31 are the first to the outline since its inauguration, and the ministry plans to have the updated version approved by the Cabinet in as early as July after it is approved by the conference.

The work interval system is included in work-style reform legislation passed by the House of Representatives on May 31, but the law only requires companies to try to implement it. According to a 2017 labor ministry survey, only 1.4 percent of companies in Japan had adopted breaks of a guaranteed length between shifts. Furthermore, more that 90 percent of firms stated that they were neither planning nor even considering implementing such a system.

The karoshi prevention outline revision proposals also include a target of reducing the ratio of companies unaware of the work interval system to less than 20 percent. The ministry hopes setting these numerical targets will raise awareness and adoption of the system.

The European Union requires member nations to guarantee workers at least 11 straight hours off per 24-hour period. The Japanese labor ministry's plan refers to this policy, but does not itself set a specific number of hours off.

Other measures proposed in the karoshi prevention outline revision include one to replace self-reporting on work hours with an objective measurement system such as having employees log in and out of work with IC cards.

The proposal also listed construction, advertising and broadcasting as industries with infamously long work hours where special attention needs to be paid to ascertain exactly how much time people are spending on the job. These were added to the transport, food services, teaching, IT and medical services industries already listed in the initial version of the outline.

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department)

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