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Geneva, Aug. 1991
Etsuro Totsuka, Toshio Ueyanagi

1. Death from Overwork and Long Working Hours in Japan

Some Japanese workers work so hard and die from overwork. Stress and fatigue from long hours on the job are so severe to cause ill health, including heart attacks and strokes. Death from overwork even has a name: Karoshi.
Each year nearly 1000 victims of death from overwork applied for workers'compensation; 5 to 10% are awarded such grants. Karoshi hotline, which was established by lawyers and doctors in 1988,has received some 2500 calls mostly from widows of workers who died from overwork in these 3 years. We estimate that more than 10,000 workers die from work-related cardiovascular diseases each year.

Mr.kanameda, whose death was approved work-related by the Labor Standard Office, worked at a major snack food processing company as long as 110 hours a week (not a month) and died from heart attack at the age of 34.
A bus driver, whose death was also approved work-related, worked more than 3000 hours a year and without rest for 15 days just before his fall from stroke at the age of 37.
Mr.Miyazaki, whose widow get workers'compensation award only after 14 years of his death, workd at the world-biggest printing company in Tokyo for 4320 hours a year including midnight work and died from stroke at the age of 58.
The number of Karoshi among female workers is increasing after enactment of the Japanese Equal Employment Opportunities Law.
Miss Yoshida, a 22-year-old nurse, died from heart attack after pursuing consecutive 34 hours' duty five times a month. Miss Iwata, 23-year-old teller at a major bank, worked illegal overtime over 50 hours a month and died from an asthma attack.
Mr.Yagi, who worked over 70 hours a week at an advertising agency and spent 3.5 hours day in commuting, died from heart attack at age of 43, observed that the modern Japanese workers were under more inhuman conditions than slaves. In his personal diary, he wrote "We are bought by money and bound to the hours. At least slaves must have had time to eat meals with their families."
According to a survey in 1989, 45.8% of section chiefs and 66.1% of department chiefs in major companies think they themselves will die from overwork.

Worse to tell, according to statistics of the Ministry of Labor, the average number of overtime work is increasing: 130 hours in 1975; 185 hours in 1990 (245 hours in large enterprise). The average number of annual paid leave actually taken is decreasing: 8.8 days in 1980; 7.9 days in 1990.
In 1987, the official average yearly working hour was 2168 hours, which was some 200 hours longer than in the U.S. and some 500 hours longer than in France and in W.Germany.
Many Japanese workers work overtime without reporting their working hours nor receiving pay. We estimate Japanese male workers actually work 2700 to 3000 hours a year. An employee at Fuji Bank, one of the leading Japanese financial institutions, reported that male workers worked an average of 3000 hours per year including no less than 700 hours unpaid work.

2. Japanese Laws concerning Overwork and Paid Annual Leave and International Norms

The right to rest and leave is declared in Art. 24 of the International Declaration on Human Rights and the right to fair working conditions including reasonable restriction of working hours and paid annual leave is provided by Art. 7 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There are International Labor Standards or ILO conventions(Nos.1,30,47,132,140,153) and recommendations (Nos. 116,148,161) concerning hours of work and paid leave.
However, the Japanese government has not take necessary steps to implement these norms or ratify any of those ILO conventions and recommendations.
ILO Convention No. 1(1919), Art. 6, which Japan has ratified, requires government to make regulations to fix the maximum of additional (overtime) working hours.
Japanese government has set maximum for women (150 hours a year) but has not made such regulations for male workers. Under Art. 36 of the Labor Standards Law, an agreement between the trade union or or a representative of the majority of the workers involved can make any overtime work legitimate.
The hours prescribed by agreements under Art. 36 are usually around 60 to 100 hours a month and sometimes more than 120.
The premium for overtime shall be more than 25% of the normal wage. In 1984, the Ministry of Labor itself estimated that the cost of additional employment would remain higher than that of overtime work unless the overtime premium were raised to 62.5%.
A worker must obey an employer's order to work overtime as long as the hours fall within the limits prescribed by the agreement under Art.36. Mr.Tanaka was dismissed from a world-famous electrical manufacturing company, because he rejected an overtime work order. The dismissal is upheld by the court. (Hitachi Ltd.V.Tanaka, Tokyo High Court, Mar.27,1986.) The company harassed another worker by having his work taken away, who had reported unpaid overtime of 67 hours to the Yokohama-nishi labor standard Office.
The ministry of labor said that it has too few labor standards inspecters to recognize the existence of unpaid overtime work.

ILO Convention No. 132(1970), which Japan has not ratified, provides that annual paid leave shall in no case be less than three working weeks (Art.3, para. 3) including at least two uninterrupted working weeks (Art.8, para.2).
However, the Japanese labor Standards Law, Art.39 provides that annual paid leave shall not be less than 10 days and it may be interrupted.
In 1988, percentage of annual leave taken was 50.5% in enterprises over 30 workers.

3. Workers' Compensation for Victims of Karoshi

Victims of Karoshi are seldom compensated under the Japanese workers' compensation system.
Almost all workers in Japan are covered by the government-managed insurance system under the Workers' Compensation Insurance Law. All employers are obliged to pay an insurance premium. Insurance benefits are paid to victims who file claims wife the Labor Standards Office and have their claim approved as a work-related injury.
In the 1989 fiscal year, 777 claims for workers' compensation for cardiovascular disease were filed in Japan; 110 (14%) of those claims were awarded, 30(4%) of which were for non-accidental disease(Karoshi) and the others were for cardiovascular diseases resulting from physical accidents such as head bruises.
The coverage formula for cases of death from overwork, which was established by the Ministry of Labor in 1987, provides that, for award, "it must be objectively recognized that there was a heavier psychological or physical overload or burden than that caused by the employee's usual specified work the week before the fall". An in-house manual illustrating the coverage formula,and which was not available to the public, contains such stiff qualifications that just one day off during the week preceding collapse disqualifies one for compensation, even if one worked twice the regular number of hours on the other six days.
Claimants also face considerable procedural difficulties including time-consuming nature of the proceedings, a lack of access to evidence, and a potentially biased selection system for referees and board members.
In Feb.1991, Tokyo High Court employed a broader formula and granted compensation to Mrs. Utsunomia, whose husband died from overwork in 1972.In May 1991, it again employed a broader formula and awarded compensation to Mrs.Miyazaki, whose husband worked 4320 hours a year and died from overwork in 1977.
Nonthless, the Ministry of labor declared in the Diet that they would not revise their formula or amend the procedure.
As to fiscal standing of the Japanese worker' compensation fund, in 1989 fiscal year, the total incoming premium from employers was 1.18 trillon yen($7.78 billion at a rate of $1=Y150) and the total benefits to victims of work-related injuries was 730 billion yen($4.87 billion).

4. Conclusions

We believe that the Japanese Government has the following duties;

  1. To take every measure to abolish unpaid work;
  2. To revise the Japanese Labour Standards Law concerning overwork(Art.36) and paid annual leave(Art. 39) and ratify relevant ILO conventions;
  3. To liberalize the formula of workers' compensation for Karoshi Victims and speed up and disclose its procedure.

We ask the United Nations to take the following measures for prevention of Karoshi;

  1. To recognize that the International Labor Standards or ILO conventions (Nos.1,30,47,132,140,153) and recommendations (Nos.116,148,161) concerning hours of work and paid leave constitute the right to rest and leave under Art.24 of the International Declaration on Human Rights and the right to fair working conditions under Art.7 of the International Convent of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  2. To recommend that every nation should take necessary steps to implement and ratify the International Labor Standards or ILO conventions and recommendations concerning hours of work and paid leave;
  3. To recognize that economically advanced countries including Japan have duties to ratify ILO conventions concerning hours of work and paid leave immediately.

The office of the KAROSHI Hotline National Network
The office of the National Defence Counsel for Victims of KAROSHI
Kawahito Law Office
ICN Bldg., 2-27-17 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku,Tokyo
TEL:03-3813-6999 FAX:03-3813-6902