To further push an export-driven economy toward recovery, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently proposed a new labor system where payment would be “standardized” for all employees. This would mean, among others, the elimination of overtime pay for most employees. A huge number of Japanese workers gathered in simultaneous protest actions on Tuesday, May 27, to raise their voices against what is naturally seen as an unfair proposal for Japan’s workforce.
The protest action was spearheaded by Rengo, Japan’s Trade Union Confederation, which for the first time sanctioned synchronized rallies in all of the nation’s 47 prefectures, adding up to a total number of more than 22,000 protesters across the country. In Tokyo’s Hibiya district alone, there were around 3,800 workers who gathered together to voice out their opposition to Abe’s new labor plan. “The government is considering changing worker protection rules from the viewpoint of corporations,” Rengo President Nobuaki Koga said. “The new labor time system is an ultimate overtime wage nonpayment system.” The new system is essentially this – a plan to allow companies to pay fixed amounts for professionals and workers alike, regardless of the hours they spend at work. The new plan also eliminates the need for companies to pay premiums for work done on holidays or late-night shifts.
It can be remembered that Abe, during his first stint as prime minister, also proposed a labor system similar to this. That idea was quickly shut down under severe public criticism. Most Japanese employees say that the elimination of overtime will certainly lead to more karoshi – that is, death from working so hard. It will be interesting to see the Abe administration’s reaction to this country-wide protest. Is Abe losing hope in the financial easing of “Abenomics” and looking for quicker ways to bring about economic recovery? Or should the government re-assess this plan, knowing that it would be a big blow to the morale of the Japanese workforce as a whole?
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