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Gov't education council proposes 45-hour cap on teacher overtime, variable hour system

TOKYO -- A 45-hour monthly overtime cap for public school teachers was the centerpiece of a preliminary policy outline aimed at work-style reform in the classroom released by a special committee of the government's Central Council for Education at a meeting on Dec. 6.

In addition to the overtime limit, the preliminary guidelines presented by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology council also called for the introduction of a "variable working hour system." This would extend working hours during the school year by a certain amount while also promoting the designation of special school closure days during long holidays when there are no classes, club activities or office duties. However, the council did not propose any punishments for going against the guidelines.

The maximum overtime in the draft policy is based on the limits set forth in legislation related to work-style reform targeting the private sector -- no more than 45 hours a month or 360 hours annually. The draft also suggested that aside from four categories including school trips and disaster situations, teachers would not be paid for their overtime hours.

While maintaining the payment of 4 percent of a teacher's base income as a "teaching accommodation payment" for overtime under the Act on Special Measures concerning Salaries and Other Conditions for Education Personnel of Public Compulsory Education Schools, etc., the council pushed for a re-examination of teachers' duties and promotion of working-hours reductions instead.

Teacher working hours principally cover those spent at the school, and covers supervision of extracurricular activities and preparations for classes. In an education ministry survey carried out during the 2016 academic year, it was found that 82 percent of elementary school teachers and 89 percent of junior high school teachers were working over 45 hours of overtime monthly.

If the council's policy plan is approved, the ministry will request that all municipal governments implement the overtime cap in their guidelines by April 2020, the start of that academic year.

As for the variable working hour system, each municipal government can choose to adopt the policy from April 2021 if it so chooses. The system, stipulated in the Labor Standards Act, states that working time overages over shorter time spans are permissible as long as daily time on the job does not exceed eight hours on average over 356 days.

The system is often applied by industries that have extremely busy or extremely slow periods. Thus, the special committee introduced the idea of increasing the working hours for teachers by three hours a week and, in exchange, designating 15 new special school closing days mainly during periods where there are no classes, such as in August.

After the introduction of the system, the cap for regular working hours would be further decreased from 45 to 42 hours a month and from 360 to 320 hours a year based on the Labor Standards Act.

Meanwhile, the education ministry intends to revise the special salaries law in fiscal 2019 to remove the exemption for local government officials like teachers under the variable working hour system.

(Japanese original by Takuya Izawa, City News Department)

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