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Labor ministry panel proposes making harassment prevention employers' obligation

The Central Government Building No. 5 in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo taken on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- An advisory council to the minister of health, labor and welfare approved a report on Dec. 14 obligating employers to introduce preventive measures against power harassment by writing into the relevant labor law that harassment is "unacceptable."

In response, the government plans to submit a bill proposing the legal revisions to the next ordinary session of the Diet in 2019. However, the position of the Labor Policy Council failed to meet the demands of labor unions calling for the legal prohibition of power harassment. They argued that such harassment has caused the suicides of workers, and that the legal prohibition should be introduced.

"Power harassment will only continue to occur under this arrangement," said a 33-year-old employee of Mitsubishi Electric Co., who has sought compensation for work-related injuries, stating that he suffered mental illness due to power harassment and long work hours.

According to the man, he was left alone in a small meeting room called the "lecture room" with his superior. There, his abilities and experience were berated, his superior saying, "Even kids can understand this issue" and "How were you able to earn your doctorate degree?" He was also forced to work more than 100 hours of overtime, and ended up taking a leave of absence. The labor standards inspection office where he sought help recognized that his illness was due to long working hours. Still, it threw out his complaint about the power harassment saying that the "evidence is insufficient."

The man demanded an internal probe to the company in a labor negotiation, but the company replied that the incident "was not a case of power harassment, but of enthusiastic guidance."

The man emphasized the need for a legal prohibition of power harassment: "Many major companies have said they are taking countermeasures (against harassment), but the number of victims never seems to decrease."

On the other hand, lawyer Kyoko Niimura, deputy executive director of the secretariat to the Labor Lawyers Association of Japan, praised the move to obligate employers to prevent harassment by law, commenting that it is "a big step forward." But with extensive experience in dealing with harassment cases, she also pointed out that sexual harassment, despite the legal obligation to prevent incidents placed on employers, continues to occur. "Only a legal prohibition can help to spread awareness that harassment should never be allowed and promote support for the victims," she said.

(Japanese original by Haruka Udagawa, General Digital News Center, and Shunsuke Kamiashi, City New Department)

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