Japan

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements and protects their rights to strike and bargain collectively.

The law places limitations on the right of public-sector workers and employees of state-owned enterprises to form and join unions of their choice. Public-sector employees may participate in public-service employee unions, which may negotiate collectively with their employers on wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. Public-sector employees do not have the right to strike; trade union leaders who incite a strike in the public sector may be dismissed and fined or imprisoned. Firefighting personnel and prison officers are prohibited from organizing and collectively bargaining.

Workers in sectors providing essential services, including electric power generation and transmission, transportation and railways, telecommunications, medical care and public health, and the postal service must give 10 days’ advance notice to authorities before organizing a strike. Employees involved in providing essential services do not have the right to collective bargaining.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.

The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association, collective bargaining, and legal strikes. Government oversight and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. In the case of a violation, a worker or union may lodge an objection with the Labor Committee, which may issue a relief order for action by the employer. A plaintiff may then take the matter to a civil court. If the court upholds the relief order and determines that a violation of that order has occurred, it may impose a fine, imprisonment, or both.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, but increasing use of short-term contracts undermined regular employment and frustrated organizing efforts. Collective bargaining was common in the private sector, although some businesses changed their form of incorporation to a holding company structure, not legally considered an employer, to circumvent employee protections under the law.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

Violations persisted and enforcement was lacking in some segments of the labor market, for example, in sectors where foreign workers were employed; however, in general the government effectively enforced the law. Legal penalties for forced labor varied depending on its form, the victim(s), and the law that prosecutors used to prosecute such offenses. Not all forms of forced or compulsory labor were clearly defined by law, nor did they all carry penalties sufficient to deter violations. For example, the law criminalizes forced labor and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but it also allows for fines in lieu of incarceration. NGOs argued that reliance on multiple and overlapping statutes hindered the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking crimes, especially for cases involving forced labor with elements of psychological coercion.

Reports of forced labor continued in the manufacturing, construction, and shipbuilding sectors, largely in small- and medium-size enterprises employing foreign nationals through the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). This program allows foreign workers to enter the country and work for up to five years in a de facto guest worker program that many observers assessed to be rife with vulnerabilities to trafficking and other labor abuses.

Workers in these jobs experienced restrictions on freedom of movement and communication with persons outside the program, nonpayment of wages, excessive working hours, high debts to brokers in countries of origin, and retention of identity documents. For example, women from Cambodia and China recounted long hours, poor living conditions, restricted freedom of movement, and nonpayment of wages while they were working in a Gifu textile factory. Workers were also sometimes subjected to “forced savings” that they forfeited by leaving early or being forcibly repatriated. For example, some technical interns reportedly paid up to one million yen ($8,900) in their home countries for jobs and were reportedly employed under contracts that mandated forfeiture of those funds to agents in their home country if workers attempted to leave, both of which are illegal under the TITP. In 2017 the government established an oversight body, the Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT), which conducted on-site inspections of TITP workplaces. There is concern that the OTIT is understaffed, insufficiently accessible to persons who do not speak Japanese, and ineffective at prosecuting labor abuse cases.

Workers who entered the country illegally or who overstayed their visas were particularly vulnerable. NGOs maintained government oversight was insufficient.

Despite the prevalence of forced labor within the TITP, no case has ever led to a labor trafficking prosecution.

On December 8, the country enacted legislation that creates new categories of working visas to bring in more skilled and blue-collar workers and upgrades the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau to an agency that will oversee companies that accept foreign workers. NGOs expressed concern that the new law does not adequately safeguard against the potential for continued labor abuses, such as those that have been present in the TITP.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Children ages 15 to 18 may perform any job not designated as dangerous or harmful, such as handling heavy objects or cleaning, inspecting, or repairing machinery while in operation; however, they are prohibited from working late night shifts. Children ages 13 to 15 years may perform “light labor” only, and children younger than age 13 may work only in the entertainment industry.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for child labor violations included fines and imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on religion, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or language.

The law mandates equal pay for men and women; however, the International Labor Organization has noted the law’s protection against such wage discrimination is too limited because it does not capture the concept of “work of equal value.” The June revisions to the Part-timer Labor Law, Labor Contract Law and the Labor Dispatch Law, which passed as part of the “Workstyle Reform Package Bills,” included provisions to obligate employers to treat regular and nonregular workers equally when 1) the job contents are the same and 2) the scope of expected changes to the job content and work location are the same. Enforcement regulations of the equal employment opportunity law also include prohibitions against policies or practices that were adopted not with discriminatory intent but which have a discriminatory effect (called “indirect discrimination” in law) for all workers in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and changes of job type. Enforcement of these provisions was generally weak.

Revisions in 2017 to child-care and nursing-care leave laws offered greater flexibility in taking family-care leave by, for example, allowing employees to divide their permitted leave into three separate instances. The revisions also increased fixed-term contract workers’ eligibility for child-care leave. The revised employment law obligates employers to take measures to prevent what is known as matahara(maternity harassment). The law also allows parents to extend paternity/maternity leave by an additional six months if child-care facilities are not available, enabling parents to take leave for up to two years after a birth. The law requires national and local governments, as well as private-sector companies that employ at least 301 people, to analyze women’s employment in their organizations and release action plans to promote women’s participation and advancement.

The law mandates that both government and private companies hire at or above a designated minimum proportion of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities). An April revision to the law increased the minimum hiring rate for the government from 2.3 percent to 2.5 percent and for private companies from 2.0 percent to 2.2 percent. The revision also stipulates that the minimum hiring ratio for private companies should be raised further to 2.3 percent before April 2021. By law companies with more than 200 employees that do not comply with requirements to hire minimum proportions of persons with disabilities must pay a fine per vacant position per month. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the mandated fine rather than hire persons with disabilities.

In cases of violation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare may request the employer report the matter, and the ministry may issue advice, instructions, or corrective guidance. If the employer does not follow the ministry’s guidance, the employer’s name may be publicly disclosed. If the employer fails to report or files a false report, the employer may be subject to a fine. Government hotlines in prefectural labor bureau equal employment departments handled consultations concerning sexual harassment and mediated disputes when possible.

There is no penalty for government entities failing to meet the legal minimum hiring ratio for persons with disabilities. In August a large number of ministries and some regional governments admitted they overstated their ratio of employees with disabilities in fiscal year 2017. According to data released by the MHLW, the overall hiring rate for persons with disabilities in the central government was 2.5 percent and for the prefectural government was 2.65 percent as of June 2017. Many government entities, however, were suspected of overstating the figures. MHLW carried out a nationwide survey of all government entities in September to investigate the matter.

Women continued to express concern about unequal treatment in the workforce. Women’s average monthly wage was approximately 73 percent of that of men in 2017.

Reports of employers forcing pregnant women to leave their jobs continued, although there are no recent data on this problem. In December media reported the case of a Vietnamese technical trainee who was told to have an abortion or quit her job.

The government encouraged private companies to report gender statistics in annual financial reports. The government also continued to increase child-care facilities.

In November 2017 the Japanese Trade Union Confederation released a survey on harassment and violence, which said more than 50 percent of respondents reported they had personally experienced or observed workplace harassment.

The MHLW said in 2017, the latest year for which such data were available, that the number of employers or supervisors who abused persons with disabilities fell 13.4 percent in the Japanese fiscal year ending in March. The decrease was attributed to a wider recognition in workplaces of a law aimed at combating abuse of workers with disabilities and to enforcement efforts by labor standards inspectors.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage ranged from 737 to 958 yen ($6.50 to $8.50) per hour, depending on the prefecture. The poverty line was 1.22 million yen ($10,900) 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 of 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 June Workstyle Reform Package Bills included the first-ever legal cap on overtime work and established penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for violations. These provisions come into force in April 2019 for large companies and in April 2020 for small- and medium-sized companies. In principle, overtime work will be permitted only up to 45 hours per month and 360 hours per year. Even in the case of special and temporary circumstances, it must be limited to less than 720 hours per year and 100 hours per month (including holiday work), and the average hours of overtime work over a period of more than two months must be less than 80 hours (including holiday work). The reform package bills also included provisions to introduce the Highly Professional System (the Japanese version of a white-collar exemption), which would eliminate the requirement to pay any overtime (including premium pay for holiday work or late-night work) for a small number of highly skilled professionals earning an annual salary of more than approximately 10 million yen ($89,400).

The government sets industrial safety and health (ISH) standards. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The MHLW 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 Minimum Wage Law provides for a fine for employers who fail to pay a minimum wage, regardless of the number of employees involved or the duration of the violation. Other labor laws such as the Industrial Safety and Health Standards Law and the Labor Standards Law also provide for fines for employers who fail to comply with the laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. In October 2017 a Tokyo court fined a major advertising agency 500,000 yen ($4,460) for failing to prevent excessive overtime worked by its employees. This court decision followed the Tokyo Labor Bureau’s ruling in 2016 that determined that the 2015 death of a young woman was a case of karoshi (death by overwork), after records showed the employee booked 130 hours of overtime in one month and slept just 10 hours per week. This finding against a major advertising agency brought renewed attention to the severe consequences of overwork and led to legislative changes to limit overtime work. 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 and were generally sufficient to deter violations. 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). MHLW officials frequently stated that their resources were inadequate to oversee more than 4.3 million firms.

Nonregular workers (which include part-time workers, fixed-term contract workers, and dispatch workers) made up approximately 37 percent of the labor force in 2017. They worked for lower wages and often with less job security and fewer benefits than career workers. Some nonregular 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 the five-year mark, when employees may ask their employer to make them permanent. 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 alleged that a conflict of interest existed, since the inspectors who oversee the 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 MHLW also continued to receive applications from family members seeking the ministry’s recognition of a deceased individual as a karoshi victim.

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