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Teacher's death recognized as from overwork with unpaid labor

TOYAMA -- The death of a public junior high school teacher in the summer of 2016, after working about 120 hours of overtime the month before suffering a stroke, has been recognized as "karoshi," or death by overwork, multiple sources have disclosed to the Mainichi Shimbun.

The Fund for Local Government Employees' Accident Compensation's Toyama bureau recognized that the teacher in his 40s worked 118 hours of overtime the month before he had a stroke, and 128 hours of overtime two months before his health failed, which drastically exceeds the 80 hour monthly overtime limit set by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. He died about two weeks after the stroke.

As an adviser to a sports club at the school, the teacher only took two days off in the two months before falling ill, due to training sessions or practice matches on weekends. The Toyama compensation bureau calculated that as a sports club adviser, he worked 79 hours of overtime the month before he suffered the stroke, and 100 hours two months prior to the onset of the condition. The man thought of his work as rewarding, but at times complained of physical and mental stress and his desire to rest, according to sources.

In July 2016, the teacher suffered a stroke at his home, and although he was rushed to a hospital, he never recovered consciousness. Family members collected evidence on his working conditions, and in August 2017, applied to the school for public workers' compensation.

The Toyama bureau recognized most of the overtime work, including the time spent as a sports club adviser, as "working excessively compared to usual," and awarded public workers' compensation over the case on April 4, 2018. The municipal board of education in charge of the junior high school declined requests for an interview, stating they have nothing to say on the matter.

"It is very rare that this much overtime work for a sports club adviser has been recognized," said Tadashi Matsumaru, a lawyer who deals with death from overwork cases. He pointed out that "overtime for sports club activities is usually unpaid, which needs immediate rectification."

The Fund for Local Government Employees' Accident Compensation is based on the Local Public Officers Accident Compensation Act. It compensates for damage to local government employees and their relatives using contributions from prefectural and municipal governments. A request for workers' compensation is examined by bureaus in prefectures and major municipalities. When a request is certified, victims can take medical leave and bereaved family members will be paid compensation. Complaints or administrative lawsuits can be filed with the local bureau or headquarters.

The Act on Special Measures concerning Salaries and Other Conditions for Education Personnel of Public Compulsory Education Schools, etc., which came into effect in 1972, is cited as a major factor behind long unpaid hours spent on overseeing sports club activities. The law limits overtime work that supervisors can ask teachers to engage in to only four categories, such as in the case of school excursions and disasters. Since work by education personnel is expected to be self-motivated and creative, it is specified that 4 percent of a teacher's base salary is added as "adjustment costs for teachers," and any overtime is unpaid. Working as an adviser for club activities is not included in the four categories, and has no effect on a teacher's salary, which leads to teachers and supervisors not keeping track of work hours.

While club activities are seen as extracurricular autonomous and voluntary acts by students, it is somewhat mandatory for teachers to be involved as part of their regular work. Many teachers find it difficult to stop providing advice when they hear their students' desire to improve.

The Japan Sports Agency has set guidelines for sports club members to "take at least two days off a week," and "spend no more than two hours on extracurricular activities on weekdays, and three hours on weekends, on average." However, the weight of such guidelines is rather vague.

It has been about half a century since the special measures law for education personnel's salaries went into force. There is an urgent need to drastically review it, including looking into the possibility of repealing it, so that club activities do not end up meaning unlimited and unpaid work for teachers.

(Japanese original by Takuya Izawa, City News Department)

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