Another case of Karoshi (過労死) in Kyoto popped up in the news. A 24-year-old died of heart failure in his sleep after working an average of 14 hours a day for a four-month period at the Nihonkai Shoya chain (Isakaya type of restaurant). Karoshi can be translated from Japanese as “death from overwork” meaning sudden stress related death due to heart attack and stroke. Interestingly, this occupational hazard is not only happening here, but Japan is one of the few countries that reports it in the statistics as a separate category.
In this case the court in Kyoto ordered the restaurant chain and four of its senior executives to make a payment of JPY 78.63 million to the victim’s parents in damages. According to Japan Times, Shinichi Oshima (judge at Kyoto District Court) ruled that the company and its executive were liable as they had “neglected their duty to give consideration to work hours so employees’ life and health won’t be endangered”. Yes, Japan is famous for long working hours, but how can Japanese companies create all of the sudden a company culture based on work-life balance? Having unpaid 40 hours overtime per month included in the employee contract is not unusual, further unspoken but expected “service zangyo” (unpaid overtime) done by the employee in challenging times for a company can be considered as loyalty to the employer.
I am sincerely wondering whether this court decision will have much effect on the expectations on the Japanese employers side. On the other hand Tadashi Matsumaru, a lawyer representing the family, added: “This is an epochal ruling that recognised the illegality of a wage system that could drive workers to work to death. It will have a major impact on the restaurant-chain industry, where long overtime is all too familiar.”
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