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Diet OKs work-style reform bill to cap overtime, lift work hour limits for professionals

A package of work-style reform bills is passed into law during a plenary session of the House of Councillors, at the Diet in Tokyo on June 29, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The House of Councillors passed a package of work- style reform bills into law on June 29, creating mandatory caps on overtime hours to penalize violators while removing work hour limits and overtime payments for highly-paid professional workers such as researchers and consultants.

The controversial package, one of the high-priority items in the current session of the Diet for the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito and other parties.

The bills are a mixture of eight rules that tighten and ease worker protection, such as the introduction of overtime caps, the so-called system for highly professional workers, as well as the principle of the same pay for the same work that would ban irrational discrimination between regular and part-time workers.

This method employed by the Abe administration of placing bills of a different nature into the same bag and ramming them through the legislature faced fierce criticism from the opposition camp.

The lightning rod for the opposition's wrath was the establishment of the system for highly professional workers, which is scheduled to be implemented in April 2019 at the earliest. It allows employers to remove work hour caps and overtime payments for professional workers with an annual salary of 10.75 million yen or more while making it mandatory to provide 104 days off per year for those targeted by the system.

The opposition had demanded the removal of the system from the package, arguing that it would encourage long work hours and increase death from overwork. They also criticized the overtime caps because they allow up to 100 hours of overtime per month, or up to 80 hours on average over multiple months, either of which are said by medical experts to exceed limits that could trigger death from overwork.

Prior to the passage of the work-style reform bills through the upper house on June 29, its health, welfare and labor committee added 47 additional resolutions including one demanding the government to specify the job categories covered by the system for highly professional workers.

The timing of the implementation of new regulations varies from industry to industry, depending on factors such as the necessity for preparations or manpower availability. Mandatory caps on overtime hours, which are set to be 45 hours per month and 360 hours per year in principle, will be introduced in April 2020 for small and medium enterprises, and April 2024 for drivers, construction workers and medical doctors. The same work, same pay principle will be in force in April 2020 for major corporations, and one year later for small and medium companies.

The Abe administration originally intended to include in the package the expansion of the discretionary working system in which pre-set work hours are applied regardless of actual work hours. The administration gave up this revision after the opposition pointed out that Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor data used to support the government's argument for the legal change had many flaws.

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department)

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