TOKYO -- The ruling coalition rammed a work-style reform bill through a House of Representatives panel on May 25 amid protests from other opposition parties.
The chamber's Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare voted on the bill as legislators with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and other opposition parties surrounded Shuichi Takatori, chairman of the panel, demanding that a so-called high-level professional labor system be deleted from the bill. The system would make high-earning specialists in certain fields exempt from upper limits on working hours.
The coalition comprising the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito as well as the opposition party Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) voted for the controversial bill.
The governing bloc intends to have the bill clear a lower house plenary session on May 29 before sending it to the House of Councillors. The ruling parties aim to make sure that the bill will be passed into law before the end of the current Diet session on June 20.
"We'd like to ensure that the bill will be enacted as early as possible. I'll sincerely answer questions during upper house deliberations to win legislators' understanding," Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters after the approval of the bill by the lower chamber panel.
Takatori decided to exercise his authority and open the May 25 lower house labor panel session to vote on the bill.
Opposition parties resisted the move because further errors were found in a survey on work hours that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry conducted on both regular workers and those working under the discretionary labor system. As part of their resistance, opposition legislators submitted a no-confidence motion against the labor minister, but the lower house voted down the motion at a plenary session, leading to the resumption of committee deliberations.
CDP legislator Chinami Nishimura reiterated the party's demand that the high-professional work system be deleted from the bill.
"The high-level professional system should be deleted if the legislature sympathizes with the feelings of the bereaved families of those who have died from overwork," she said.
The panel chairman went ahead with a vote on the bill on the grounds that the time allotted to opposition parties for questions on the bill had elapsed.
The CDP and other opposition parties criticized the move, saying the vote was "forced" and "unacceptable."
The bill would revise eight labor laws including the Labor Standards Act. The pillars of the bill are the high-level professional system, the introduction of an upper limit on overtime with punitive measures against violators, and a policy of equal pay for equal jobs to rectify unreasonable wage gaps between regular and non-regular workers. The ruling bloc and Nippon Ishin had modified the bill to allow highly professional workers who earlier agreed that the system would apply to them to subsequently withdraw from the agreement if they desire to do so.
The approval of the bill at the lower house panel came after twists and turns.
In February, numerous data entries in a labor ministry survey on work hours of regular workers and those working under the discretionary labor system were found to be flawed, prompting the government to delete the expansion of the discretionary labor system from the bill. Under the discretionary labor system, employees are paid based on fixed work hours instead of actual hours spent on the job.
The CDP and other opposition parties opposing the bill argue that the high-professional system should also be deleted from the bill because it could lead to long work hours for such workers and exacerbate death by overwork.
At a May 23 lower house labor panel session, Michiyoshi Yunoki of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, exclaimed, "If the system were introduced, deaths by overwork would increase. Such tragedies must never be repeated."
However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rejected the demand, saying, "There are conditions for application of the system. We'll ensure that such workers' health will be properly managed.
"We must pursue an economy that will deliver high added value. There's no time to lose in introducing a system that allows workers to choose a work style where labor is evaluated based not on work hours but achievements," he said.
(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi and Akiyo Ichikawa, City News Department)