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PM Abe: Reforms for overworked, underpaid employees

This article is more than 12 months old

Japanese workers put up with long hours and unpaid overtime for cost-saving companies, and figures from the government, which wants more money in workers' pockets to boost consumer spending, appear to underestimate the problem.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to enact labour reforms as part of his "Abenomics" plan to end decades of stagnant growth and deflation.

His proposals include measures to cut working hours, limit overtime, raise wages for temporary workers and make things easier for employees with children.

By law, both management and rank-and-file employees should get paid for extra work, but companies have been discouraging overtime claims for so long that employees accept it as normal.

Government data shows that Japanese work an average of 14.2 hours of overtime a month, but 2,000 respondents in a recent survey by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation said they worked an average of 40.3 hours of overtime a month and get paid for just 22.7.

"Workers often face pressure from their superiors, sometimes in subtle, unspoken ways, to claim less overtime hours," said Mr Toshiaki Matsumoto, chief executive of HR Strategy, a human resources consultancy.

A deferential work culture means few speak up.

"Often I don't bother claiming overtime... Would hurt my chances for promotion," said one 38-year-old IT engineer.

He estimates that he works an average of 50 unpaid overtime hours a month, often leaving the office at 8pm, spending some time with his wife and three-year-old son before bed, then getting up at 3am to tackle unfinished work. - REUTERS