TOKYO -- Japan's labor ministry is proposing a new subsidy for companies that set a minimum interval between the time employees leave work and when they return the following morning.
The idea is to alleviate overwork, a theme of the government's push for greater productivity, by reducing late nights and early mornings at the office.
A precedent can be found in Europe, where a 1993 European Union directive calls on member states "to ensure that every worker is entitled to a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours per 24-hour period." This directive also sets a cap of 48 hours weekly working time as a four-month average.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government will seek to promote a minimum rest period for workers in Japan as part of an upcoming plan for achieving "a society to which all citizens contribute." At this point, the labor ministry intends to use a financial incentive to encourage compliance rather than making it mandatory.
The subsidy may be introduced as soon as fiscal 2017. The ministry's planners envision the money going to small and midsize enterprises, but the scope may widen. Amounts being discussed range from several hundred thousand yen to 1 million yen ($9,400). Details such as how many hours of rest are needed to qualify for the subsidy have yet to be worked out.
Some big corporations have adopted minimum rest periods of their own accord. At telecom group KDDI, a policy of allowing at least eight hours of downtime -- preferably 11 -- has been in place since July. Travel and leisure group JTB's Tokyo-region unit introduced a nine-hour rest policy in April last year.
Japan lacks statistics on how much downtime workers receive, so the labor ministry will undertake a study.
Other proposals for the plan include lowering the threshold at which overtime can prompt an investigation for labor standard compliance from 100 hours a month to 80 and reporting overwork to the Fair Trade Commission in cases that involve possible intimidation of subcontractors.