Death from overwork on the Tokyo Olympic Stadium

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After the first stadium was rejected for its exorbitant cost, the ‘budget’ conscious stadium started 14 months later than anticipated. Due to the delay, work on the new stadium has caused another scandal – excessive overtime. One worker has taken his life after logs showing he had worked over 211hrs of overtime in a month. One shift saw the worker start at 6:30am and finish up 26 hours later. One wonders what will turn it? If Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike offers a glib apology what hope is there of reform? The punishment for Dentsu (who saw a worker commit suicide) was it wasn’t allowed to apply for any Tokyo government ad contracts for one month.

While the advent of Premium Friday (workers can knock off at 3pm on the last Friday of each month) is a positive step forward and having employees clock on & off makes sense, there is a deep seated cultural problem of not wanting to become an outcast within a company. Although the The Japan Institute of Labour Policy & Training reports that since 2002 bullying and harassment claims to the Labor Tribunal have soared from under 6% to over 20% at the same time total disputes have trebled to over 300,000 annually. One worker from Olympus complained his bosses were being unethical by poaching many of a contractors staff. His punishment was demotion among other humiliation. In order to avoid being unfairly treated, people are using the ‘-hara’ (pawa-hara = power harassment, seku-hara = sexual harassment, mata-hara = maternity harassment) route to their advantage as the following charts show.

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For corporates in Japan, the government is the leader. It took PM Koizumi some 15 years ago to introduce the ‘Cool Biz’ concept (removal of neckties in the middle of sweltering summer during a period of power conservation) because corporations didn’t want to risk being the odd one out.

However there are exceptions. One company in Japan has a very open approach to hiring and paying its staff top rates that are based on performance. Staff are willing to work long hours because inputs have transparent outputs. Instead of getting one or two months pay twice a year like many Japanese corporates offer no matter how ordinary the real performance is this company has employees who think, according to one, “like working in heaven.” Simple – they are paid for their abilities and the trappings of that success are indeed visible.

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