Japan looks to get tough on firms that violate overtime limits

The government will impose tougher penalties on companies that make employees work beyond the overtime limit agreed on with the labor side, sources said Tuesday.

In view of the labor ministry’s search the same day of Dentsu Inc. over the high-profile work-related suicide by a freshman female worker of the major advertising agency, the government concluded that it must take more effective measures to prevent excessive overtime work, the sources said.

As part of its work style reform initiative, the government aims to draw up specific action plans by March and introduce relevant legislation during the ordinary session of the Diet next year, they said.

The Labor Standards Act stipulates eight work hours a day and 40 hours a week. But companies may let employees work up to 45 hours of overtime a month and 360 hours a year if they conclude pacts with labor unions under Article 36 of the law.

Experts point out that the overtime regulations are virtually meaningless because the extra work hours may be extended further if management gains consent from the labor side.

Dentsu set its overtime limit at 70 hours a month under its “36” pact with the union. But the ministry suspects the company forced some employees to work more than 100 hours of overtime a month, but made them report overtime slightly shy of the 70-hour limit.

To prevent these illicit acts, the government is considering raising fines set by the law from the current ¥300,000 at most, the sources said.

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