The cost of convenience in Japan: when foreign students work instead of study

It’s midnight at the convenience store I often patronize near my home in Tokyo’s central Shinjuku district. The store’s open all day and night, 365 days a year.

There is one man I’ve seen quite a bit of lately — behind the counter, stocking shelves, carrying heavy boxes, cleaning, cooking food, ringing up purchases, barristering, giving out raffle tickets, and always using polite, respectful Japanese, from irasshaimase (welcome) to arigato gozaimasu (thank you very much).

Once, he ran down the street after my husband, who had just left the store. It wasn’t because this customer had shoplifted. God forbid. No, his addled brain had simply forgotten to collect the change (about ¥40), and this superclerk thought it right to leave his post and bolt down the street to hand it to him.

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Overtime deal marks total capitulation by labor


Full disclosure: I am the president of Tozen Union. Last October we joined the Japanese Trade Union Federation, known as Rengo.

It is therefore with a heavy heart that this month I lambaste Rengo’s recent decision to agree to a policy I believe will endanger the health and lives of workers in Japan. Criticizing our own tribe is never easy and leaves a sour taste, but if we cannot criticize ourselves, we have no right to criticize others.

Those who read my column know well that one of Japan’s most dire labor problems is the practice of working from early morning until late at night. Long hours can and do kill.

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労働組合は「過労死」の増産に手を貸すのか? ~「残業上限月100時間」という狂気



このことは、政府がこれまでのバリバリの「規制緩和」から、「規制強化」路線へ180度方針転換したのか、とずいぶん騒がれたが、疑い深い私は、これには裏があるにちがいない、という気持ちが拭い去れなかった(このことは、2016年12月25日のLabor Painsでも述べている)。安倍首相は現在の財界トップである榊原定征(さかきばら さだゆき)経団連会長と親密な関係であり、自らの外遊にも連れていき、世界各国で日本企業を首相みずからが“トップセールス”するのだと自慢げに言っている。安倍首相が、自分の大切な「お友達」が多い経済界の締め付けを強めるようなことを本気でやるとはとても思えなかったのだ。

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Japan’s culture and courts need to get with the program on overtime

TV series have for decades now overused a broad range of formulaic plot devices. Let me give you an example:
The heroine scrambles to get out of the house in the morning on her way to work. She runs down the street only to collide with a man walking the other way. Blushing, she showers him with apologies and in all the kerfuffle, a piece of jewelry slips off to the ground unnoticed. Days later she runs into him (figuratively this time) in a chic cafe, and romance brews. For variety, replace jewelry with wallet, train pass or other item; stir and bake.

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‘Zero Overtime Bill’ is the thin end of the wedge for workers’ rights

Takuboku Ishikawa died in 1910 at the tender age of 26.  But before he left this world, he penned the following famous tanka:


waga kurashi
raku ni narazari
jitto te wo miru

Staring at my hands
I toil and toil
yet my life gets no easier

Bewildered by his predicament, Takuboku found himself staring at the hands that connected him both physically and spiritually to his work.

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Wages rebound in January for 1st time in 13 months

The regular monthly wage for workers in Japan eked out a 0.3 percent gain in January from a year earlier to an average 261,074 yen, bouncing back for the first time in 13 months amid pay raises in the welfare, medical and manufacturing sectors, which have relatively large workforces, the government said Tuesday.

The base wage inched up 0.3 percent to 242,642 yen, while overtime pay rose 1.2 percent to 18,432 yen, according to the monthly survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The overall monthly wage, including bonuses and other irregular pay, stayed the same at 273,318 yen, with irregular pay shrinking an average 5.3 percent, it said.

By industry, regular wages at manufacturers grew 1.1 percent to 294,428 yen, while those in the medical and welfare industries gained 1.7 percent to 251,367 yen.

Overtime working hours in the manufacturing sector, seen as a key indicator of overall economic conditions, increased 1.5 percent to 13.3 hours for the fifth straight monthly rise.

Overwork death recognized for worker at Fukushima plant

The death last May of a man who had engaged in work at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the nuclear crisis erupted there in March was recognized Friday as caused by overwork, according to a lawyer representing the man’s bereaved family.

A local labor standards inspection office in Yokohama, acting on a workers’ compensation claim by the family of [a subcontract worker dispatched by a construction firm in Shizuoka Prefecture], who died of a heart attack at age 60, determined that his cardiac infarction was caused by excessive physical and mental burdens arising from working overnight wearing protective gear and mask, lawyer Akio Ohashi said.

There have been 35 cases of workers’ compensation claims in connection with the nuclear disaster, and three of them involve a worker’s death. Aside from [that worker’s] case, the two others involved workers who died due to tsunami waves on the day of the disaster.

Nonregulars at record 35.2% of workforce

The ratio of nonregular workers in the labor force in 2011 hit a record average high of 35.2 percent, excluding [Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima] the three prefectures severely affected by the March quake and tsunami, up 0.8 point from 2010, according to data compiled by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

The average for the year hit a record for the second straight year, the ministry said Monday.

The rise appears to have stemmed from the growing tendency of firms to hire fewer young people as regular workers and rehire veteran workers on a contract basis after their retirement.

By age bracket, the ratio of nonregular workers came to a record 32.6 percent among people aged between 15 and 34, while that among workers aged 55 and over was 51.5 percent, also an all-time high, the ministry said.

Nonregular workers aged between 15 and 34 numbered 1.7 million, up 20,000, it said.

Scant legal justification for unpaid overtime

“I’ve been working in Japan for the past few years and lately, because of the slow pace of business, our company has let go of some of our staff. As a result, we have to split the workload of the recent layoffs. Our boss keeps telling us to punch in our timecards for regular hours and not to do any overtime, but I cannot do all of my work within a regular eight-hour day, and I find myself routinely doing overtime. I am not getting paid for any of my extra work, and I was wondering what sort of steps I could take to get compensation.”

From what you’ve told us it sounds like you may have a case against your employer. Forcing employees to work overtime without compensation is illegal and can carry serious penalties for your employer.

In principle, a work week is supposed to total 40 hours, divided into eight hours per day. Any work beyond this limit is only possible with prior agreement between the employer and employees, and is subject to overtime payment.

Certain contracts include a clause stating that the salary includes any possible overtime hours or a specified “overtime allowance.” While the former is illegal, the latter is not illegal per se. However, employees are entitled to claim any difference between the overtime allowance and what the overtime wage for the actual hours would have been using the premiums mentioned above. Essentially, with or without an “overtime allowance clause,” the employee is entitled to the same overtime wages.

If overtime work is done with the understanding of the employer but without an explicit request, the employee can still file a request for unpaid overtime wages.

When there is unpaid overtime, an employee can report it to the relevant labor standards bureau, which will [may] conduct an investigation and [may] either suggest or request payment if a violation is found.