“This case should serve as momentum for wider recognition of the karo-jikoshi category as a labor-related accident, and spurring sufficient measures taken in society toward the prevention of karo-jikoshi, as well as ‘karoshi’ (death from overwork) and ‘karo-jisatsu’ (suicide from overwork),” Judge Hashimoto said in his ruling regarding the following case.
Tokyo-based Green Display Co. settled a lawsuit with the family of a deceased employee who died in an accident caused by exhaustion. The company paid 700k according to a report by The Asahi Shimbun.
Kota Watanabe, 24, was killed in a road accident while driving home from an overnight shift in 2014. During the subsequent case, presiding Judge Hidechika Hashimoto said the company bore responsibility for its employees’ safe return home after finishing work, and urged Green Display Co. to settle with the grieving family.
Hashimoto took the opportunity to draw more attention to the increasing problem in Japanese society of “karo-jikoshi” or death from accidents relating to overwork. Japanese workers are shamed, and stigmatized if they don’t work excessive hours, receive holiday pay, and take time off. Such workers in Japan are considered not loyal to the company. In many cases, if they do take a holiday, they do so to their own peril, which can lead to termination, even though Japan’s Labor Code forbids termination under these circumstances.
The settlement was reached in the Yokohama District Court on February 8th, 2018. The case was described as a rare example of Japan’s legal system setting an example on behalf of workers rights, according to the Watanabe family’s lawyer Takuya Kawagishi.
Watanabe was driving home after finishing a midnight shift on the morning of April 24th, 2014. He fell asleep and his motorbike struck a utility pole. His mother filed a lawsuit against his employer Green Display Co. the following year, claiming that her son had been overworked, and his long shifts had led to his untimely death. It took the company four years and a judicial browbeating to settle the case.
Judge Hashimoto said the accident was a result of Watanabe falling asleep while driving. Green Display acknowledged that Watanabe had left work exhausted and in a “state of overwork.” However, instead of acknowledging the poor working conditions, and Green Display’s role in the young man’s death, the company stated that they should have told to find alternative means of traveling home. Japan’s trains shut down generally around midnight, so unless the company was willing to drive Watanabe home, or pay for a taxi, such statements lack merit.
Following Watanabe’s death, the company instituted a mandatory 11-hour work shift to afford employees sufficient time to rest. Eleven hours! Not eight as Japan’s Labor Law requires, eleven. Green Display also now requires midnight shift workers to take taxis home after work.
“I hope that other companies will also take sufficient preventive measures against karo-jikoshi,” Junko Watanabe told reporters at a news conference in Tokyo on February 8th, as cited by Asahi Shimbun.
Shigeru Wakita, head professor of labor law at Ryukoku University, described the case as “epoch-making,” adding that it will “serve as a warning to other firms.” It’s doubtful that any corporation in Japan will heed Wakita’s warning, as death from overwork, and work related suicides due to poor working conditions is a common occurrence in Japan. “Judge Hashimoto emphasized the overwork Watanabe was engaged in until immediately before the accident, and said the company had a duty to pay consideration to his safety, even in the case of an accident that he himself caused on his way home,” Wakita said. In Japan, an employer is liable if their workers are injured, or killed while commuting to work.
A nuclear engineer who worked at the Kansai Electric Power Company in Tsuruga, western Japan, hung himself in April of 2016. Regulators found he had logged up to 200 hours of overtime each month.
“Karoshi” has been a major problem in Japanese since the 1950s. A 2016 survey of 10,000 Japanese firms found that in more than 20% of those surveyed were clocking in more than 80 hours overtime per month. In 2016, Matsuri Takahashi’s dream career at Japan’s top ad agency, Dentsu, ended with her suicide as her overtime pushed past 100 hours a month. Prior to leaping to her death, Takahashi wrote, “I’m emotionless and only wish to sleep,” she wrote, exhausted and depressed, in a Twitter post in October 2015, six months after beginning work with Dentsu. On Christmas day, the 24-year-old leaped from a dormitory balcony, leaving behind one final brief email to her mother saying her work and life had become unbearable.
Dentsu’s unbearable workload has persisted since after World War II, when then-company president Hideo Yoshida, devised his “10 rules of work.” At the top of the list: “Create work for yourself; don’t wait for work to be assigned to you.” Another says, “Never give up, even if you might be killed.”
In August 2015, labor authorities caught Dentsu exceeding 70-hour monthly maximum overtime limit, and ordered it to cut back. Dentsu like most companies in Japan continue to force workers into working excessive overtime. When a representative at Dentsu was asked to comment about the excessive overtime hours in violation of labor law, that led to Takahashi’s death, Dentsu stated, that as of October 2015, nobody was reporting overtime exceeding 70 hours. The company now limits overtime to 50 hours each month. To get around labor law, companies like Dentsu merely have employers work excessive overtime, don’t record it, and don’t pay for it either. Read more on the Takahashi story at the following link: https://apnews.com/b972d8ccc27a4060a8a3385f7b11ed41/japan-overwork-deaths-among-young-show-lessons-unlearned.