Economy pays tab for Japan Inc's free lunch on overtime

Sat Dec 17, 2016 8:05pm EST
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By Stanley White and Izumi Nakagawa

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese workers put up with long hours and unpaid overtime under pressure from cost-saving companies, and figures from 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 labor reforms as part of his "Abenomics" plan to end decades of stagnant growth and deflation. His proposals include measures to cut working hours and 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 than actually worked," said 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 because my projects would run over budget, and that would hurt my chances for promotion," said one 38-year-old IT engineer who asked not to be named for fear of upsetting his boss.

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

An IT engineer, who does not want to be identified, poses against a window after having an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan, December 7, 2016. Picture taken on December 7, 2016.   REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon