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Gov’t to remove contentious part in labor reform draft bill: Abe

  • March 1, 2018
  • , Kyodo News , 1:48 a.m.
  • English Press

The government will revise a draft bill for labor reforms to remove a contentious part after disputes between the ruling and opposition parties over an erroneous working-hour survey related to the bill, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said early Thursday.


The government is now set to drop a proposal in the draft bill to expand the application of the so-called discretionary labor system, in which employees are paid based on fixed work hours instead of actual hours spent for the job, Abe told reporters.


Numerous errors in a labor ministry survey that was initially designed to be used to promote the new discretionary labor system sparked criticism from opposition parties that say the government is trying to use the flawed data in favor of its proposal.


The clashes between the ruling and opposition parties prevented smooth deliberations on a budget bill for fiscal 2018, as opposition parties insist they would not agree to a vote on the budget bill unless the labor bill is retracted and a fresh survey is conducted.


The revision is expected to deal a blow to Abe as work-style reforms are a pillar of one of his administration’s key bills for the current Diet session.


The labor reform bill contains imposing a binding limit on long working hours and exempting certain high-paid professionals from a legal overtime cap, according to Abe.


Abe indicated Wednesday the government may delay submitting the labor reform bill.


“The government will not be able to move forward on the bill unless we accurately assess the current (work) conditions” of the discretionary labor system, he told the lower house budget committee. “It will take a certain period of time.”


The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is considering delaying submitting the bill by about a month to late March, people familiar with the matter have said.


Under the discretionary labor system, employees are given a fixed number of overtime hours and are paid on the assumption they worked those hours, meaning any further overtime is unpaid.


Abe is seeking to reshape the country’s work culture with the backing of business lobbies. But opposition parties, including those supported by labor unions, argue it could worsen a culture of overwork that has led to suicides and other deaths.


The survey conducted in 2013 concluded that the average worker on a discretionary labor contract generally works shorter hours than one on a conventional contract.


But the ministry said last week it used two different methods to collect the data, making its results unusable for drawing comparisons and prompting the premier to withdraw his Diet remarks based on it.


Five opposition parties demanded the dismissal of the chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee which on Wednesday approved a record 97.71 trillion yen ($911 billion) budget for the year starting April 1. The bill passed a plenary session of the lower house later in the day.


Meanwhile, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to hold meetings of the upper house budget committee on Thursday and Friday, attended by Abe and all of his Cabinet members.

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