Did you ever experience 200 hours of overtime per month?


According to Mainichi Shimbun another case of death due to overwork comes into Tokyo city court. In this case the suit is against not only the company, but as well for the first time against the government as well. The family of the man who committed suicide is saying that authorities failed to supervise the unlawful labor agreement between the company and its labor union. This young 24-year-old man had entered a Yokohama-based plant maintenance firm in April 2007. He was then assigned to an office in Chiba as a construction site supervisor. The news paper articles says that due to a labor shortage and a delay in the construction schedule, he was forced to work an average of 123 hours of overtime per month between January and August 2008, with his overtime topping 200 hours in July. He developed a mental disorder, resulting in suicide in November afterwards. The issue in this case is that the company and its labor union had agreed to allow its employees to work up to 150 hours of overtime per month, or up to 200 hours if necessary. This is actually against the national labor law.
While my heart goes out to the family, I am wondering how many other Japanese workers are facing now the same situation. Doing a rather large number of overtime hours – mostly “service zangyo” (free overtime work) – is a part of the Japanese working culture. While I understand that financial pressure in companies demand efficient solutions, but it is for me no excuse to allow an environment where people end up seeing no way out than to kill themselves. For sure this case is worthwhile to follow in the news while not forgetting we are talking about situations when people’s lives was lost. Most likely I can be sure that none of the readers of this blog has the same work load as this young man, or how come someone with this heavy load finds time to read this blog?

Praying for the soul of this young man and hoping for a labor friendly future for all companies in Japan,

Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

4 thoughts on “Did you ever experience 200 hours of overtime per month?

    • Dear Paulo,

      good to hear from you again!

      I can say from personal experience that for sure the working hours in Japan are much higher than in the US or then in Europe. I think the biggest difference is found in the loyalty towards the company, which is closely connected to the responsibility as an employee to do not a good job, but a great job for the company/customer. It might be an exageration, but from the way I see the responsiblity as a team member and additionally as a representative of the company the sense of duty is much higher than abroad. I can tell you I learned in Japan what it means to support teamwork. An example is to avoid extra work for others in the team, as you simply increase their working load. Might sound like a given, but consider, this means then as well, when someone takes a day off for vacation, this person is causing “hardship” for others. Consquently it is not so easy to leave work early and leave the troubles for others to resolve or expect it to be done the next day.

      Time off without the guilty feeling towards others is precious time!

      All the best from sunny, springlike Tokyo,

      Sibylle Ito

  1. I know about this first-hand. In the first two school terms, I worked quite a bit of “service overtime.” I’m technically a “semi-full time ALT” otherwise read as “you will work full time hours, but receive part-time pay.” So, instead of a full work week, my company actually states my official working hours as an hour and a half LESS than a full time worker. This is so they won’t have to provide health insurance, sick days, or a pension plan.
    In the past year, I’ve worked much more than my contracted hours, and I have never received any type of monetary compensation for my work.
    However! I have the benefit of having good relations with my students and coworkers… I just.. I wish I was getting paid more for the work I put in!! This term, I don’t have nearly as much work to do, so as soon as my contracted working hours are over, I leave.
    It’s hard for Japanese people to overcome the cultural realities of “zangyo” and as a foreigner.. downright impossible.

    • Dear Bridget,

      I am sorry to hear that you have to experience the “no health insurance, no pension plan” job. I agree with you not all working conditions are employee friendly in Japan or even abroad. You can add then another layer of challenges, when you are working as a foreigner abroad, which makes the whole mix not easier. On the other hand, I have to say at many functions that I had wether in Europe, US or Japan “service overtime” was rather common although not in the range of 200 hours per month.
      Personally I am dreaming and hoping for an increase of international agreements on transferability of pension/social security systems (some European countries have agreements about pension/social security with Japan), globally accessable high level of health insurance and a global working environment where fair merit performance is valued. I guess I will be dreaming for a long time and hopefully next generation can enjoy a different global working system.

      All the best,

      Sibylle Ito

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