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Japan-Update

Construction workers in Japan to get Saturdays off

A chronic labor shortage is forcing contractors to adopt a five-day week

A construction site in Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan.

TOKYO -- Faced with a serious and chronic labor shortage, Japan's construction industry is beginning to adopt a five-day working week in the hope of attracting younger workers.

Generally, construction workers building homes and offices in Japan get only Sundays off. Workers in the industry work about twice as many hours per year as the average for all industries.

Daiwa House Industry is set to introduce non-work days at its construction sites that will start in April this year. In addition to Sundays, workers at those sites will be able to take a day off every month. In principle, the additional day off will be Saturday to create a two-day weekend. From April 2019, workers will be able to take two days off per month other than Sundays. The company plans to fully introduce a five-day working week in April 2021.

More days off could mean longer construction times. Daiwa House, however, intends to sidestep the problem by increasing efficiency with the help of support robots such as a wearable robot developed by Cyberdyne, in which the company has invested.

Daiwa House plans to introduce such robots at some 10,000 construction sites around Japan where homes, apartments for lease and commercial facilities will be built. The company hopes this will help small, local construction contractors and other relevant companies struggling with labor shortages to attract workers.

PanaHome is also considering introducing a five-day work week. Takenaka is preparing to draw up by March a concrete plan to fully introduce a five-day work week by the end of fiscal 2021. The plan will be implemented in April this year. Haseko plans to introduce a four-week working schedule with eight days off.

In 2016, the working hours for the construction industry averaged about 2,102 hours, 300 hours longer than the average among all industries, which have mostly adopted a five-day working week. According to the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors, the number of skilled construction workers in Japan, of whom there were 3.43 million in fiscal 2014, is expected to decline by as many as 1.28 million by fiscal 2025 due to aging. With the labor shortage expected to worsen further, attracting young, skilled workers is becoming urgent.

Late last year, the organization created a five-year action plan intended to push for a five-day working week industry-wide. The aim is to achieve eight days off every four weeks for construction workers -- effectively a five-day work week -- by March 2022.

It may be difficult to convince client companies to accept possible construction delays and cost increases as a result of efforts to improve working conditions. To realize the five-day week, construction companies will have to try to shorten construction periods by using robots and cut costs elsewhere.

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