Overtime or the cure — which is worse?

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the average full-time employee worked 2,041.2 hours in 2006, compared with 2,028 hours the previous year. Another government survey shows that one out of every four male employees in their 30s worked more than 60 hours a week in 2005. No job category breakdown was provided.

In 2003, a worker in the manufacturing sector in Japan worked on average 1,975 hours, compared with 1,525 hours in Germany and 1,538 hours in France. Closer to Japan, but still lower, was the United States at 1,929 and Britain at 1,888.

To deal with the high overtime rate, the government prepared a revision to the Labor Standards Law to increase pay for such work.

However, it also wrote another bill to exclude senior white-collar employees from overtime pay, the so-called white-collar exclusion. Management ranks are already excluded from overtime pay.

Strong public opposition to the exclusion forced the ruling bloc — the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito — to shelve the bill. But labor experts and unions fear it is only being held back so it won’t affect the bloc’s chances in the July House of Councilors election, and that after the poll they will submit it to the Diet.

“The issue will definitely come up again,” labor lawyer Ichiro Natsume said. “We must work harder to make the government give up the bill completely.”