(TAKAHASHI Yoichi, PPPC Chairman)
Discussions in the Industrial Competitiveness Council on working hours regulations resulted in vain due to the stupid phrasing by mass media.
An incident which reminded the fact was the interpellation in the Lower House Health and Labor Committee on June 4. To the question by Michiyoshi Yunoki, Democratic Party of Japan, requesting it should be applied to the central government employees, the government official answered that the central civil service is not subject of the Labor Standard Act and therefore not subject of discussions in the Industrial Competitiveness Council.
It was just unfortunate that this DPJ lawmaker regarded the “white-collar exemption” proposed by a private-sector member of the Council as “zero-overtime-payment.”
The “white-collar exemption,” accurately speaking, is a rule to exempt labor regulations such as maximum 40 hours per week of working hours to so-called white-collar workers. In that case, the concept of overtime work itself would disappear. Instead, salaries are paid according to their performance.
There are actually such labor-rule exemptions in the western countries. Ratio of the workers exempted of labor regulations to all the workers is said to be 20% in U.S., 10% in France, and 2% in Germany. It has not been introduced in Japan’s private sector. And, as the official answered in the Diet, the employees of the central government are not subject of the Labor Standard Act. But it does not mean there are no overtime payments to them.
In fact, overtime payments of the central government employees are paid from the budget irrespective of the actual overtime working-hours. In short, paraphrasing the “white-collar exemption” into “zero-overtime-payment” is totally off-the-point.
Being asked whether to apply “zero-overtime-payment” to the central government employees, like this DPJ lawmaker did, the answer would automatically be “no” because there are overtime payments to them. But if the question was whether a “white-collar exemption” should be applied to the central government employees, the answer should have been “it is being applied already. Yet, there are overtime payments.”
After consultations, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare finally accepted parts of the private-sector member’s new proposal by limiting the subject to highly-expertise occupations.
To note, there actually is a rule similar to such labor-rule exemptions in Japan; discretional labor rule that gives additional payments for assumed overtime works irrespective of the actual working hours. It resembles “zero overtime-payments” in that the salary would not change no matter how many hours spent on works.
Workers subject of the rule are 19 types (Labor Standard Act 38-3) including R&D, IT analysis and design, designer, producer and director, etc., amounting to 8% of all the workers.
Yet, boundary and definition of this rule is so ambiguous that its implementation depends on discretion of the officials of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. In that sense, white-collar exemption and discretional labor rule are similar but totally different ones. Ironically speaking, the “discretion” refers not to the workers’ discretion regarding their working hours but to the discretion of the bureaucrats in the MHLW. On the contrary, there are no rooms for the ministry’s discretion with regard to the white-collar exemption.
The debate resulted to a little “white-collar exemption” and discretional labor rule for the most other parts.
The subject of “white-collar exemption” is to be limited to those receiving more than 10 million yen a year. But the percentage of brochure receiving such salaries is 3.8%. Indeed, because this figure includes managers, the actual ratio of employees receiving such an amount of salary would be as little as 3%. In any case, it does not exceed the “8%” of discretional labor.
With regard to the discussions on relaxation of working-hours regulations, it resulted to 3% of “white-collar exemption,” 8% of discretional labor, which have nothing to do with overtime salaries of the rest 92% workers.
When the media reported the rule as “zero-overtime-payments”, officials of the MHLW should have maintained that “overtime payments of the central government employees are NOT zero.” While the central government employees are not subject of the Labor Standard Act, there are overtime payments from the budget in a manner not linked with their actual working hours. In short, it is totally misleading to name the exemption as zero-overtime-payments.
Winner of the discussions on working-hours regulation was neither the private-sector member of the Council nor the labors but the officials of the MHLW. It succeeded in minimizing the subject of white-collar exemption and responding to all the others by discretional labor. In fact, the “discretion” refers not to the workers’ discretion regarding their working hours but to the discretion of the bureaucrats in the MHLW. On the contrary, there are no rooms for the ministry’s discretion with regard to the white-collar exemption. This time, the interests of MHLW have been secured. The target of “white-collar exemption” will not likely be expanded.
The difference of white-collar exemption and discretional labor is that any change in the white-collar exemption requires legal revisions to the law while it only requires Ministry Order to expand subject of the discretional labor rule. Needless to say, changes to the law require much more efforts.
In any case, there are large rooms for the subject of discretional labor rule to be expanded by the MHLW’s discretions. Attentions should be paid to the “discretional labor rule” instead of the “zero-overtime-payments” having nothing to do with 92% of the entire workers.