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Mitsubishi Electric workers under discretionary system win work accident recognition

A man walks in front of a company signboard erected at the entrance of a building housing the headquarters of Mitsubishi Electric Corp. in Tokyo on Sept. 27, 2018. (Kyodo)

TOKYO -- Labor inspection authorities have certified the illnesses of five Mitsubishi Electric Corp. employees, two of whom killed themselves, as work-related accidents believed caused by excessive overtime, the company disclosed on Sept. 27.

Three of the workers were employed under the discretionary labor system, under which staff are paid based on fixed hours instead of actual hours spent on the job. All five of the employees, in their 20s to their 40s, were engineers in the company's product or technology development divisions.

Mitsubishi Electric stopped using the discretionary labor system in March this year, but said the move "wasn't directly related" to the employees' illnesses or their recognition as being work-related. "We took the measure to more accurately grasp our employees' work hours," a company PR official stated.

Among the three workers to whom the company applied the discretionary labor system, an employee at the Communication Networks Center in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, killed himself in February 2016 after excessive hours on the job. He was in his 40s at the time. The two others suffered strokes.

Of the remaining two employees, one in his 20s at the firm's Nagoya Works took his own life in August 2012 due to overwork. The other, who was working on semiconductor lasers for medical equipment at the company's Information Technology R&D Center in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, announced at a November 2016 news conference that he was suffering from adjustment disorder after being forced to work illegally long overtime. He added that his condition had been recognized by the Fujisawa Labor Standards Inspection Office as work-related.

Mitsubishi Electric may well have applied the discretionary labor system to these two workers as well down the road.

The firm introduced the discretionary labor system in 2004, and applied it to about 10,000 staff at its research and planning divisions, out of a total of 30,000 or so employees.

The discretionary labor system can legally be applied to workers who can determine the processes and time allocation of their own jobs. However, critics have pointed out that the system could spur long work hours.

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department)

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