World

Chief of Japan ad giant resigns over worker's 'death by overwork'

TOKYO:The president of Dentsu, Japan's largest advertising agency, will step down over the "death by overwork" of a young employee, a suicide which has prompted official probes over Japan's overtime culture.

Ms Matsuri Takahashi, a graduate of Japan's top university, leapt to her death in December last year.

She clocked 105 hours of overtime in October last year before becoming depressed.

Her death, deemed by the government to be "karoshi" or death by overwork, has prompted raids on Dentsu offices, and has also been followed by Japan's first white paper on the issue.

That study found that in a country that imposes few limits on employers regarding overtime hours and pay, more than a fifth of companies had staff that worked more than 80 hours of overtime in a month - the government threshold.

"It is extremely regrettable we could not prevent overwork by a new recruit," Dentsu president Tadashi Ishii told a news conference on Wednesday.

"In order to take full responsibility, I would like to resign as president at a board meeting in January."

Mr Ishii said Dentsu and an employee had been referred to prosecutors by the Japanese labour ministry's Tokyo labour bureau on suspicion of violating labour standards law.

REPLACEMENT

Dentsu said it had not yet decided on a replacement for Mr Ishii.

Mr Ishii's resignation comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing a wide-reaching campaign to reform Japan's employment laws, which could include tighter overtime regulation.

Hard work and sacrifice have long been synonymous with Japan, and strong social expectations make it difficult for employees and unions to aggressively push for reforms.

Workers often feel a debt of gratitude for being hired and are reluctant to quit even if conditions are bad. Others, especially new hires, feel they have to work longer hours than colleagues to get promoted.

Ms Takahashi's mother, Yukimi, said in a statement released on Sunday, the anniversary of her daughter's death, that she wanted to "change the consciousness of every working person in Japan".

Japan officially recognises two types of karoshi: death from cardiovascular illness linked to overwork, and suicide following work-related mental stress. - REUTERS

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