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Business

Japan Inc. moves toward minimum rest periods for workers

New rules encourage staffers, managers to combat overwork together

Japanese workers typically have to commute as usual in the morning even if they worked late the previous night.

TOKYO -- Many Japanese companies are establishing a minimum interval between two days of work so that employees can receive enough rest time, a step aimed at fighting Japan's culture of lengthy job hours.

Such a requirement has existed in the European Union since the early 1990s. Member states mandate that employees have at least 11 consecutive hours off work daily. As Japanese employers normally have uniform start times based on statutory working hours, the interval system has not taken root widely. Only 2% of about 1,700 companies surveyed have minimum daily rest periods, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said.

Telecommunications company KDDI requires at least eight hours of rest time daily. If the off-work periods fall short of 11 hours more than 11 times a month, the employee and supervisor must discuss how to improve work.

Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank in December expanded its nine-hour minimum daily rest requirement to cover all of the company's roughly 14,000 staffers, including contract workers. This rule previously applied to departments with heavy overtime due to the need to communicate with people abroad. The bank broadened the rule in line with the government's push to advance labor reform.

Diaper maker Unicharm introduced a rule Jan. 5 that all 1,500 or so employees must get at least eight hours off work even after overtime. If attendance data shows staffers do not get adequate rest, then supervisors will meet with them and discuss steps for improvement. To reduce late-night hours, the company also this month banned work after 10 p.m. in principal.

Supermarket operator Inageya will require 10 to 12 hours of rest for its roughly 10,000 workers, starting sometime this year. Work schedule generation systems will be updated to automatically incorporate the mandatory rest time. Some say such changes could exacerbate labor shortages and increase costs. But an Inageya official said the company prioritizes the mental and physical health of workers.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which adopted minimum rest periods six years ago, has seen a change in awareness among staffers and managers. "They now try to minimize overtime," an official said.

The daily rest requirement lets employees who have done overtime report to work later the following day. This could encourage more late-hour work, so the requirement must be combined with other measures such as "no overtime days."

Honda Motor requires 12 hours off work after overtime. The automaker also ensures that workers take paid time off. These measures have kept Honda's work hours per employee below the national average.

The labor ministry plans to help fund updates of software that manages work data. More companies are seen jumping on the bandwagon.

(Nikkei)

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