TV series have for decades now overused a broad range of formulaic plot devices. Let me give you an example:
The heroine scrambles to get out of the house in the morning on her way to work. She runs down the street only to collide with a man walking the other way. Blushing, she showers him with apologies and in all the kerfuffle, a piece of jewelry slips off to the ground unnoticed. Days later she runs into him (figuratively this time) in a chic cafe, and romance brews. For variety, replace jewelry with wallet, train pass or other item; stir and bake.
Takuboku Ishikawa died in 1910 at the tender age of 26. But before he left this world, he penned the following famous tanka:
raku ni narazari
jitto te wo miru
Staring at my hands
I toil and toil
yet my life gets no easier
Bewildered by his predicament, Takuboku found himself staring at the hands that connected him both physically and spiritually to his work.
The regular monthly wage for workers in Japan eked out a 0.3 percent gain in January from a year earlier to an average 261,074 yen, bouncing back for the first time in 13 months amid pay raises in the welfare, medical and manufacturing sectors, which have relatively large workforces, the government said Tuesday.
The base wage inched up 0.3 percent to 242,642 yen, while overtime pay rose 1.2 percent to 18,432 yen, according to the monthly survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
The overall monthly wage, including bonuses and other irregular pay, stayed the same at 273,318 yen, with irregular pay shrinking an average 5.3 percent, it said.
By industry, regular wages at manufacturers grew 1.1 percent to 294,428 yen, while those in the medical and welfare industries gained 1.7 percent to 251,367 yen.
Overtime working hours in the manufacturing sector, seen as a key indicator of overall economic conditions, increased 1.5 percent to 13.3 hours for the fifth straight monthly rise.
The death last May of a man who had engaged in work at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the nuclear crisis erupted there in March was recognized Friday as caused by overwork, according to a lawyer representing the man’s bereaved family.
A local labor standards inspection office in Yokohama, acting on a workers’ compensation claim by the family of [a subcontract worker dispatched by a construction firm in Shizuoka Prefecture], who died of a heart attack at age 60, determined that his cardiac infarction was caused by excessive physical and mental burdens arising from working overnight wearing protective gear and mask, lawyer Akio Ohashi said.
There have been 35 cases of workers’ compensation claims in connection with the nuclear disaster, and three of them involve a worker’s death. Aside from [that worker’s] case, the two others involved workers who died due to tsunami waves on the day of the disaster.
The ratio of nonregular workers in the labor force in 2011 hit a record average high of 35.2 percent, excluding [Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima] the three prefectures severely affected by the March quake and tsunami, up 0.8 point from 2010, according to data compiled by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.
The average for the year hit a record for the second straight year, the ministry said Monday.
The rise appears to have stemmed from the growing tendency of firms to hire fewer young people as regular workers and rehire veteran workers on a contract basis after their retirement.
By age bracket, the ratio of nonregular workers came to a record 32.6 percent among people aged between 15 and 34, while that among workers aged 55 and over was 51.5 percent, also an all-time high, the ministry said.
Nonregular workers aged between 15 and 34 numbered 1.7 million, up 20,000, it said.
“I’ve been working in Japan for the past few years and lately, because of the slow pace of business, our company has let go of some of our staff. As a result, we have to split the workload of the recent layoffs. Our boss keeps telling us to punch in our timecards for regular hours and not to do any overtime, but I cannot do all of my work within a regular eight-hour day, and I find myself routinely doing overtime. I am not getting paid for any of my extra work, and I was wondering what sort of steps I could take to get compensation.”
From what you’ve told us it sounds like you may have a case against your employer. Forcing employees to work overtime without compensation is illegal and can carry serious penalties for your employer.
In principle, a work week is supposed to total 40 hours, divided into eight hours per day. Any work beyond this limit is only possible with prior agreement between the employer and employees, and is subject to overtime payment.
Certain contracts include a clause stating that the salary includes any possible overtime hours or a specified “overtime allowance.” While the former is illegal, the latter is not illegal per se. However, employees are entitled to claim any difference between the overtime allowance and what the overtime wage for the actual hours would have been using the premiums mentioned above. Essentially, with or without an “overtime allowance clause,” the employee is entitled to the same overtime wages.
If overtime work is done with the understanding of the employer but without an explicit request, the employee can still file a request for unpaid overtime wages.
When there is unpaid overtime, an employee can report it to the relevant labor standards bureau, which will [may] conduct an investigation and [may] either suggest or request payment if a violation is found.
The bereaved family of a 31-year-old Chinese intern whose death in 2008 was recognized as resulting from overwork has filed a lawsuit against his employer and an agency that supplies foreign trainees to companies in Ibaraki Prefecture.
A labor office in Ibaraki Prefecture has found that a Chinese trainee at a local firm died in 2008 due to overwork, marking the first recognized death from overwork of a foreign intern under a government-authorized training program.
The male trainee, Jiang Xiaodong, died of cardiac arrest aged 31 in June 2008 after working more than 100 hours of overtime in his final month, prompting his family to file a workers’ compensation claim in August 2009.
Jiang came to Japan as a trainee under the program in 2005 and was working at a plating factory of metal processing firm Fuji Denka Kogyo in Itako, Ibaraki, according to the Kashima labor standards inspection office.
[Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union] Lawyer Shoichi Ibusuki, representing the bereaved family, said Jiang had worked about 150 hours of overtime a month since his second year and generally had only two days off per month.
“There are many foreign trainees who died after being forced to work excessively, but many of the cases have been shrouded in darkness,” Ibusuki said. “The latest case (involving Jiang) is just the tip of the iceberg, and the overtime recognition came too late.”
Accused of violating the labor standard law, Fuji Denka Kogyo President Takehiko Fujioka, 67, and the company faced a summary order last month to pay a fine of 500,000 yen each.
The training program for foreigners was introduced in Japan in 1993, with a stated aim of helping enhance technological expertise and nurturing human resources in developing countries.
Foreign interns were originally exempted from Japanese labor-related laws during the training period in their first year in Japan. But with a spate of work-related troubles breaking out across the nation, the Immigrant Control and Refugee Recognition Law was revised and they became covered by labor-related laws last July provided they undertake two months of designated classroom lectures, such as those on the Japanese language.
About 200,000 foreigners stayed in Japan under the program in 2009. In the year from April 2009, 27 interns died from work accidents or illness.
According to Ibusuki, most of them were in their 20s and 30s. He said foreign interns “are abused under poor (working) conditions, under the premise of transfer of technology or international contribution. It is just like slavery.”
Time after time I’ve been in offices here where people feel under pressure not to take time off, for lunches or anything else.
According to a report by Harris Interactive this year, Japanese workers took off an average of 9.3 of their 16.6 legally mandated vacation days.
As anyone who works here knows, even that remarkable statistic hides a lot of pain. Most office workers contribute dozens of hours per month in unpaid overtime. Many don’t get proper dinner breaks and toil away into the evening. More than once I’ve seen friends arrive at 9 p.m. and congratulate themselves on getting home early.
Is it because everyone is so busy they can’t afford time off? Of course not — productivity in Japanese offices is low. Most people could easily do the work they’re assigned in half the time.
The really distressing thing is that bosses don’t even have to demand this masochistic behavior from employees here — workers police themselves.
Reformers in Britain and elsewhere discovered over a century ago that happy employees are motivated, productive employees.
Economists say one of Japan’s biggest structural problems is chronic underconsumption, in part because millions of workers have so little opportunity to spend their hard-earned cash.
And one more thing: Giving reasonable working hours to men and women would give them more time to meet, fall in love and rescue Japan from its marriage and fertility crisis.