Monday, November 27, 2006

Tanaka-san the salaryman and Karoshi - Some Japanese work 12 hours daily - too scared to leave the office before the boss

Karoshi - “death from overwork" in Japan - In China, attention has been given to the issue in recent times and the media use a direct translation, guolaosi (过劳死), to describe similar cases.

The image above from Xinhua, China's State news agency, shows that the issue is taken seriously enough to place it in the national news. Xinhua outlines the ten key warning signs of guolaosi: i) early appearance of potbelly; ii) baldness; iii) decrease in sexual performance; iv) frequent toilet visits; v) hypomnesia; vi) cognitive dissonance; vii) lack of attention; viii) insomnia; ix) unexplained migraine, tinnitus, sight impairment; and x) mood swings.

Kyodo News has reported that 28 percent of male employees in the Tokyo and Osaka areas spend an average of more than 12 hours a day on work, according to a survey by a labour union think tank.

The figure reached 33 percent for men in their 30s.

The poll also found that only about half of such workers, both men and women, are paid fully for overtime work, the Research Institute for Advancement of Living Standards said Sunday.

The institute, under the Japanese Trade Union Federation (Rengo), conducted the poll in September and October on 772 men and women in their 20s through 50s working for private companies. The respondents live in the Kanto and Kansai metropolitan areas centering on Tokyo and Osaka.

Among female employees, 5 percent said they work more than 12 hours a day on average. The figure for employees fully paid for overtime stood at only 52 percent.

Many respondents said they are discouraged from claiming overtime pay due to the atmosphere of their workplace and the attitude of management.

The FT also reported today that following multiple inspections by Japan's labour standards office, the number of Japanese companies that paid ¥1m ($8,600, €6,600, £4,500) or more in overtime in arrears reached a record 1,524 in fiscal 2005, says the labour ministry.

"In Japan, there is the concept of 'service overtime', which basically means working for free," said Masaaki Kanno, economist at JP Morgan in Tokyo.

"If the boss is in the office, there is enormous social pressure for junior employees to stay until he leaves. Despite the long hours, I doubt the Japanese are more productive."

The fear of being regarded as a slacker by a workaholic or inefficient boss or one who is part of the same syndrome and is scared of his or her own boss, is not uncommon in other countries in white collar professions.

Since the late 1990s, unpaid overtime has risen, driving up working hours.

During Japan's decade of economic malaise, companies responded to flat demand or worse by cutting labour costs and hiring part-time employees, meaning fewer full-time employees were responsible for the same amount of work.

Companies in fiscal 2005 paid Y23.3bn in overtime in arrears - up ¥700m on the year before, according to a survey by the labour ministry. By industry, manufacturers took the largest share at about ¥6.7bn.

Companies that paid ¥10m or more in overtime in arrears totalled 293, while the largest payment for unpaid overtime was by a manufacturing company for ¥2.3bn.

The problem of overwork is particularly severe among men in their 30s. About a quarter work more than 60 hours a week, according to official figures, although the actual number may be higher.

While the economy has recovered in recent years, higher profits have not resulted in better wages and stronger consumer demand.

The labour ministry began to publish its findings in 2003 in response to complaints of employees forced to work overtime and developing health problems.

Karoshi, a word coined during Japan's economic miracle, means "death from overwork". The average worker uses less than half of his or her annual holiday and the rate is falling.

"The idea of a vacance as in France [is] unknown. For many workers, a summer holiday is only a one-week vacation, while for many busy businessmen, it is a [long weekend]," Susumu Noda, professor at Kyushu University, wrote in a recent research paper.