Japan Mulls Plans to Cut Down Working Hours

The Japanese government is mulling plans that would ease working hours in a nation where the daily grind often lasts long into the night.

Adopting more flexible work hours would help encourage productivity, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained at a joint meeting of the Council of Economic and Fiscal Policy and the Competitiveness Commission on Tuesday.

“We need a new framework that would encourage workers to focus on results instead of logging long hours,” Abe said.

One of two proposals submitted during the meeting suggested a plan to compensate highly specialized workers making 10 million yen ($96,400) or more a year, such as researchers and designers, based on their output rather than time worked.

Another proposal sought to let labor and management jointly set in advance the amount of working hours per year. Employees who would be covered by the agreement could freely set their own hours.

Both proposals would be offered as options to employees, according to Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives and a private-sector member of the commission.

Private-sector members stressed that giving employees leeway in designing their work hours would help drive efficiency.

Japanese employees have a reputation for working long hours out of a sense of obligation. Most regular employees in Japan are compensated on an hourly basis under the current system, so adjusting to a new system based on flexible work hours would be a challenge for most companies. In addition, inflexible work hours at most companies make it difficult for women raising children to work as regular employees.

Japan’s labor force contributed $40.10 to gross domestic product for each hour worked in 2012, less than developed-country average of $46.70, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: “Inglorious Salarymen” by Simon Wollwage/Flickr

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