Japan Limits Overtime To 99 Hours A Month To Curb "Death By Overwork"

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's struggle to combat incidences of Karoshi - a Japanese term for "death by overwork" - reached an key milestone on Friday, when Japan's parliament approved a bill that limits overtime work to less than 100 hours a month per worker, and less than 720 hours per year, while setting penalties for companies that violate the new labor rules, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Before the law, there was no limit to the number of hours companies could ask their employees to work, as long as labor unions didn't make a fuss.


Recently released government data revealed that Japan’s jobless rate touched 2.2% in May, the lowest level in 26 years. And as Japan's working-age population dwindles, job openings have outpaced the number of workers available to fill them: As a reference, two months ago, there were 160 job offers available for every 100 workers seeking a job.

The law should also improve working conditions for "nonregular" workers - what we would call "temps" in the US - who lack the job security of their salaried peers.

"Work-style reforms are the best means to improve labor productivity," Mr. Abe said in Parliament June 4. "We will correct long working hours and improve people’s balance between work and life."

The new law also seeks to improve the lot of Japan’s growing pool of "nonregular" workers in temporary or part-time jobs who don’t have the job security of full-time regular employees. It says employers must pay equally for the same work, regardless of workers’ status. In a 2016 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Abe said he wanted to "eliminate the word 'nonregular' from the lexicon."

The suicide of a 24-year-old female employee of Japanese advertising firm Dentsu helped inspire the law, as the government and the young woman's family condemned Japan's culture of long working hours.

In addition to the curbing suicides, Abe hopes that limiting workers' hours will help reverse or at least arrest the country's declining productivity (although it wasn't exactly clear how). Declining productivity has been the scourge of the developed world, including the US, where the issue has mystified the Federal Reserve and economists, who fail to explain the lack of a rebound in US economic output.

That said, Japan isn't the only Asian country where work-life balance is hopelessly out out of whack. In South Korea, a law that lowered the country's maximum workweek to 52 hours, down from 68, also took effect this week. Altogether, workers in South Korea will be allowed to work the standard 40 hours, with an additional 12 hours of overtime thrown in.

South Korea

One Seoul resident interviewed by the Straits Times said she was "delighted" by the news. A small business owner, she said she left her large office to start her own company because the owners chose to keep the office perpetually understaffed, guaranteeing that workers would need to stay late to finish their work.

Under the law, which slashed the maximum weekly work hours to 52 from 68, workers in South Korea will be allowed to work 40 hours and an additional 12 hours of overtime.

Those who make their employees work more than 52 hours weekly now face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to 20 million won (S$24,484).

"I'm delighted by the news," said Shin Na-eun, 29, a Seoul resident who runs her own business after quitting her job at a large-size firm two years ago.

"There were many reasons why I quit my job, which was seen as stable by many. One of the reasons was definitely the heavy workload."

Shin said in her experience, no one really forced her to stay late in the office. Rather, it was her workload that made it impossible for her to leave work on time. She said the office was understaffed, and that she had to bring her work home on many occasions.

"I'm not naive enough to believe that this law will change everything overnight, but I feel like we are certainly going in the right direction," she said.

Before the new law, studies showed that the average South Korean worked 40 hours a week, combined with an additional 16 hours of overtime. However, not all South Korean workers are so enthusiastic. Indeed, many fear that companies will continue to pressure workers to put in long hours at the office - but because of the law, workers won't receive any compensation for this overtime since reporting it would be illegal.

Yet others are angry about the overtime they stand to lose, arguing that they preferred the status quo.

"What if you prefer money or work over life?" one anonymous office worker told the Straits Times. "I think those who want to work more and thereby make more money should have the right to do so."


takeaction Wed, 07/04/2018 - 22:16 Permalink

Don't have to worry about implementing that law here...nobody seems to want to work even 20 hours.  Homeless Disaster...."Now Hiring" sign everywhere...welcome to Portland, Oregon.

el buitre wee-weed up Thu, 07/05/2018 - 00:13 Permalink

Robert Sapolsky is a well known professor of primate physiology at Stanford.  He wrote an outstanding book called A Primate's Memoir  in which he described his life studying baboon behavior in Africa and how it affected their cortisol levels.  At one point he wrote and I am paraphrasing, baboons are so well adapted to their environment that they only have to work 4 hours a day to sustain themselves.  They can then devote the remaining 20 hours a day to making each other as miserable as possible at which which they are highly skilled.  

In reply to by wee-weed up

Retired Guy D503 Thu, 07/05/2018 - 01:15 Permalink

When little kids come home from school in Japan they don't run around the apartment. It is too small. They just jump up and down in one spot. Why would a worker want to go home when work is more spacious and without kids jumping. For fun you can drive through miles of traffic to visit a tall mall. As you ride the escalator sales guys yell stuff at you with megaphones. Perhaps work is more fun.

In reply to by D503

brushhog divingengineer Thu, 07/05/2018 - 07:48 Permalink

The point so many people miss is that the only reason to work is to have enough money to enjoy life more. Thats it. So enjoying a good quality of life is all that matters. Satisfaction. How much satisfaction the money gains you vs what is lost each hour at work. If you work so much that you cannot enjoy a good quality of life then you are a fool who is losing the game of life. How much more money you have or make doesnt matter if you are unhappy because you only want the money to increase your satisfaction. Thats all its good for and it has severe limits.

Now, each hour that you spend at work is compensated. The problem is, with each additional hour your satisfaction with life goes down. You reach a point where the compensation for each hour goes down until you reach zero or even negative numbers. How many people would actually PAY 20.00 dollars to leave work an hour early after they have burned out? Ive felt that way many many times....of course you cant do that without consequences.

Once you grasp that the game isnt about 'money' but happiness, you begin to work directly on your happiness and find that the amount of money you need to maximize your satisfaction is much lower than most people think.

I was introduced to this concept, believe it or not, from my high school economics teacher. This, I believe, comes partly from Adam Smith's 'wealth of nations'. I was also influenced very heavily by Thoreux's "Walden Pond" which, IMO, if you have not absorbed then you are only really living a sort of half-life.

Now ask me what my days look like? No job, havent worked a regular "job" in almost 10 years. Never will again. The cost is too high for the compensation. Doesnt add up. But I did work enough to buy a plot of land with a small cabin on it. I raise small qualities of livestock, do a little light logging, garden, cut wood for heat and cooking, and figured out a small passive income stream. If I told you what I live on you'd say Im a pauper...but every day you slog into that job to sell your precious time you have my deepest sympathies.

In reply to by divingengineer

zob2020 RAT005 Wed, 07/04/2018 - 23:52 Permalink

Men who show no interest in women as they can see their fathers working themselves to death so their moms can enjoy life at home and never having to work. In short guys opt out of working, family, society etc..
This looks as an attempt at luring those guys into working at least for themselves so they can be taxed and then their wages can be given to single moms. Which may look like a solution but will in reality only destroy society.

In reply to by RAT005

zob2020 I am Groot Thu, 07/05/2018 - 15:11 Permalink

hardly. with a smaller population in a still highly developed economy there is also more efficiency and thus much higher living standards. More than enough to spawn a population boom which will even out somewhere along the road whether that is a stable population at 20, 40. 60 or 80 million.
Also progress will not stop.

History has not ended ;)

In reply to by I am Groot

nati toady Wed, 07/04/2018 - 23:15 Permalink

It's even more grim than that: In Japan, you can buy cheap cigarette lighters for 100 yen. Smokers tend to use them up quickly, toss them in the trash and get a new one.

This has become a euphemism for the Japanese salary man, who is used up by his company, then thrown away when he burns out (quits or dies) and is replaced with another poor sap in a sad parade of human 100-yen lighters.

In reply to by toady

LetThemEatRand takeaction Wed, 07/04/2018 - 22:38 Permalink

"Homeless Disaster...."Now Hiring" sign everywhere...welcome to Portland, Oregon"

Probably totally off base in pointing this out because I'm sure Portland has really cheap housing, but otherwise I would posit that people don't want to work for wages that don't cover the cost of housing and transportation to and from work.

In reply to by takeaction

messystateofaffairs takeaction Thu, 07/05/2018 - 05:59 Permalink

For me a nice workweek is 30 hrs. to satisfy my lifestyle requirements. I'm not putting in more time to feed the bloodsuckers who rig the system to skim off my productivity to satisfy their slave farm needs. The farmers don't need to worry though, they've got lots of livestock that need to put in 80 hrs. just to exist. Maybe one day the livestock will figure it out, then again, maybe they won't.

In reply to by takeaction

bluskyes Wed, 07/04/2018 - 22:32 Permalink

I wonder if any of these bureaucrats have considered, that the employee's life at home, is what encourages them to work such long hours.

LetThemEatRand Wed, 07/04/2018 - 22:33 Permalink

"Indeed, many fear that companies will continue to pressure workers to put in long hours at the office - but because of the law, workers won't receive any compensation for this overtime since reporting it would be illegal."

We're helping you by fucking you in the ass.  - the government.

They could write the law to address this issue, but they won't.

keep the basta… Wed, 07/04/2018 - 22:39 Permalink

Nice  to see the South Korea law put onto aus law firms.

start 8.30am dressed to kill, groomed perfectly as services pimped out at very high rate. dinner at 7.30pm inhouse supplied, after 10pm taxi home, sometimes at 4am, then back to work. Want weekend work too. For first two years for the best and brightest employed by the top firms paid at rate of infants school teachers. No overtime paid. Write the speeches for the deadshit senior partners. Help them socially.

Still not nearly as bad as the japanese employees problem. So sad.