Sources revealed on Jan. 22nd that the government is discussing plans to maintain the current penalties faced by employers who violate overtime caps, which will be submitted to the Diet as a part of the work-style reform bills. It is speculated that the government wanted to avoid any delays in the legislative process, as more stringent punishment for illegal overtime work could trigger an overhaul of the Labor Standard Law’s punitive provisions.
The work-style reform related bills are thought to include the existing Labor Standard overtime limit and penalties that will act to deter illegal overtime and help detect violations. However, the severity of the sentencing will remain unchanged, as the entire body of punitive provisions of the labor law would need to be revisited if overtime penalties were to become more harsh.
Under the Labor Standard Law, work hours are capped at eight hours a day or 40 hours a week, but if the company and labor union sign an agreement based on Article 36 of the law – called “saburoku,” which literally means “36” – employees become able to work beyond the work hour cap. Baring some exceptions, the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry sets overtime limits at 45 hours a month or 360 hours a year. However, if the employer and union sign a deal with special provisions, the overtime available to workers becomes effectively unlimited for up to six months a year.
Although the saburoku does not penalize abuse, Article 32 that governs work hours does; if an employer violates this law and makes an employee do illegal overtime work, he/she could face up to ¥300,000 in fines or up to six months in prison.
Meanwhile, the prolonged work hours bill that was jointly submitted to the lower house by the Democratic, Liberal, Communist, and the Social Democratic Parties contains a harsher punishment for illicit overtime work, where violators could face up to ¥500,000 in fines or up to a year in prison.
“[This] is the most important issue in this Diet session. We are going to do everything we can to get results,” said Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party in an NHK interview on Jan. 22. He also mentioned the possibility of holding discussions with the ruling and opposition parties during the session. Talks on harsher penalties would surely be a hot topic to discuss among the parties.