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Education ministry panel proposes 45 hour overtime cap a month for teachers

The headquarters of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is seen in this file photo taken in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on July 26, 2018. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

The Central Education Council on Jan. 25 submitted a report to Education Minister Masahiko Shibayama on teachers' work-style reform that proposes guidelines to cap the maximum monthly overtime at 45 hours, amid growing public concerns about overwork of educators.

The ministry set up a team headed by Shibayama the same day to promote measures put forward by the advisory council of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

An education ministry survey in fiscal 2016 showed that 60 percent of junior high and 30 percent of elementary school teachers worked over 80 hours of overtime per month -- the threshold for "karoshi," or causing death from overwork.

The council's guidelines on overtime set the cap at 45 hours a month and 360 hours a year based on laws related to work-style reform targeting private workers. They also call for local governments, which hire many public school teachers, to introduce regulations and ordinances that set the caps specified by the guidelines as early as fiscal 2020.

The education ministry will try to promote the introduction of overtime caps by publicizing how prefectures and municipalities are complying with the central government policy. However, local governments will not be punished for their failures to meet the goal and it remains to be seen if the cap requirement will be effective.

The council also proposed to count as overtime tasks such as overseeing extracurricular club activities, preparations for classes or work related to grading. In addition, the panel presented detailed programs designed to reduce teachers' work hours for 14 job types traditionally shouldered by teachers.

The council said that up to 160 hours can be removed from a junior high school teacher's annual overtime by delaying starting hours; another 160 hours by using outside supervisors for club activities; and a further 120 hours or so by introducing a school administrative work support system including grading functions.

As for elementary school teachers, some 150 overtime hours a year can be shaved off by reviewing start times, while about 100 hours can be eliminated by utilizing contractors for dealing with children during off-class hours or cleaning.

The council also proposed to introduce a variable work system that makes it easier for teachers to take lengthy periods off during vacations between semesters by extending work hours during busy seasons.

The council, however, did not offer a comprehensive review of a controversial law that does not recognize teachers' overtime pay with few exceptions in return for fixed "adjustment payments." Under the Act on Special Measures concerning Salaries and Other Conditions for Education Personnel of Public Compulsory Education Schools, etc., overtime work by teachers is regarded as "voluntary actions" with the exception of four types of work assignments such as responding to disasters and attending school trips. As compensation for overtime, teachers receive 4 percent of their base pay as "teaching accommodation payments," and this arrangement is said to be contributing to long working hours by educators.

(Japanese original by Takuya Izawa, City News Department)

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