An advisory panel to Labor Minister Yutaka Okano bowed to management and agreed to give small businesses a two-year grace period in moving toward a 40-hour work week, says a report approved Friday.
In the ordinary Diet session starting in January, the Labor Ministry wants to amend existing legislation so that it falls into line with the recommendations of the advisory panel.
Under the existing law, all workers in Japan are supposed to move to a 40-hour work week in April. The legislation was passed to counter overseas criticism that the longer work weeks of Japanese workers gave companies in Japan an unfair edge over their Western competitors.
Four national organizations representing small businesses had been lobbying the Liberal Democratic Party since the fall of 1995 to implement a grace period for small businesses. Small business owners argue that under present sluggish economic conditions they cannot afford the higher labor costs arising with the shift to shorter work weeks.
The recommendation by the Central Labor Standards Council for a two-year grace period means that small companies that fail to implement 40-hour work weeks will not be immediately punished, but will most likely only receive warnings to strive toward the shorter working week.
Small businesses already had been given a grace period to move from a 44-hour work week to a 40-hour work week.
In an unusual move, labor union representatives on the advisory panel subcommittee looking into working hours as well as those on the full panel abstained from the vote approving the report.
Such reports are generally approved by unanimous consent, but the abstentions were symbolic protests against the inclusion of the grace period.
In a related development, a labor union made up of Labor Ministry officials issued a statement Friday criticizing the advisory panel report.
1996 Asahi Shimbun