Beginning in October, the revised minimum wage ranged from 714 yen ($6.57) to 932 yen ($8.57) per hour (depending on the prefecture), up by an average of 25 yen ($0.05) compared with 2015. The poverty line was 1.22 million yen ($11,225) per year.
The law provides for a 40-hour workweek for most industries and, with exceptions, limits the number of overtime hours permitted in a fixed period. It mandates premium pay of no less than 25 percent for more than eight hours of work in a day, up to 45 overtime hours per month. For overtime between 45 and 60 hours per month, the law requires companies to “make efforts” to furnish premium pay greater than 25 percent. It mandates premium pay of at least 50 percent for overtime that exceeds 60 hours a month. The law also mandates paid leave on national holidays as well as at least 10 days of paid leave per year following six months of full-time employment. Workers may take five of those 10 days hourly, if agreed by labor and management. The government sets industrial safety and health (ISH) standards.
The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations governing wages, hours, and safety and health standards in most industries. The National Personnel Authority covers government officials. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry covers ISH standards for mining, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is responsible for ISH standards in the maritime industry.
The law provides for a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($4,600) for employers who fail to pay a minimum wage, regardless of the number of employees involved or the duration of the violation. Approximately 4,000 labor standards inspectors employed by more than 300 labor standards offices enforced these laws and regulations. Labor unions continued to criticize the government for failing to enforce the law regarding maximum working hours, and workers, including those in government jobs, routinely exceeded the hours outlined in the law.
In general the government effectively enforced applicable ISH law and regulations in all sectors. Penalties for ISH violations included fines and imprisonment. While inspectors have the authority to suspend unsafe operations immediately in cases of flagrant safety violations, in lesser cases they may provide nonbinding shidou (guidance). Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Officials within the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare frequently stated that their resources were inadequate to oversee more than 4.3 million firms.
Non-regular workers (which include part-time workers, fixed-term contract workers, and dispatch workers) made up approximately 37 percent of the labor force in 2014. They worked for lower wages and often with less job security and fewer benefits than career workers. Some non-regular workers qualified for various benefits, including insurance, pension, and training. Observers reported a rise in four- or five-year contracts and the termination of contracts shortly before five years--measures that could prevent workers from reaching the five-year point when they may ask their employer to make them permanent employees. Workers in academic positions, such as researchers, technical workers, and teachers in universities, were eligible for 10-year contracts.
Reports of abuses in the TITP were common, including injuries due to unsafe equipment and insufficient training, nonpayment of wages and overtime compensation, excessive and often spurious salary deductions, forced repatriation, and substandard living conditions (also see section 7.b.). In addition, observers noted that a conflict of interest existed, since the inspectors who oversee TITP working conditions were employed by two ministries that are members of the interagency group administering the TITP. Some inspectors appeared reluctant to conduct investigations that could cast a negative light on a government program that business owners favored.
There were also reports of informal employment of foreign asylum seekers on provisional release from detention who did not have work permits. Such workers were vulnerable to mistreatment and did not have access to standard labor protections or oversight.
Falls, road traffic accidents, and injuries caused by heavy machinery were the most common causes of workplace fatalities. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare also continued to receive applications from family members seeking the ministry’s recognition of a deceased individual as a karoshi (death from overwork) victim. In October, in a high profile case, the Tokyo Labor Bureau ruled that a 2015 death of a young woman was a karoshi, after records showed the employee booked 130 hours of overtime in one month and just 10 hours of sleep per week. This finding against a major advertising agency brought renewed attention to the severe consequences of overwork. In October the government released its first white paper on karoshi; it noted that, of 1,700 companies surveyed, 20 percent of them had regular full-time employees who exceeded 80 hours of overtime a month, and 11.9 percent were pushing its workers with overtime exceeding 100 hours. The paper cited 2,159 cases in 2015 of suicides tied to job-related causes, such as exhaustion or bullying. It also reported a record 1,515 compensation claims in fiscal year 2015 for mental disorders caused by work placing a heavy psychological burden on an individual.