World

Under-fire Japanese firm to pay S$29m in overtime wages to workers

TOKYO: Japanese advertising giant Dentsu, under fire for gross workplace malpractice leading to the suicide of an overworked rookie in 2015, will pay 2.4 billion yen (S$29 million) in overtime wages to its workers next month.

The sum is for the two-year period ending March this year, the firm said on Tuesday, as it acknowledged that its workers have long conformed to the unspoken norm of covering up their overtime hours in the name of "self-improvement" to help the company dodge suspicions of labour inspectors.

Dentsu was last month slapped with a token fine of 500,000 yen for flouting labour laws leading to the death of Ms Matsuri Takahashi, 24.

It has since urged workers to retrospectively report their unpaid overtime hours and taken measures such as switching off lights at its headquarters at 10pm and removing from its employee handbook the mantra "Once you start, don't quit - even if it kills you".

Ms Takahashi's death has become a cause celebre against gruelling overtime, sparking a deep rethink in Tokyo of how to curb the deep-rooted problem that has time and again led to karoshi, or death by overwork.

Japan is considering new laws to cap overtime work at 100 hours a month and 720 hours a year.

But to work overtime for 100 hours in a standard month of 20 work days - assuming employees do not clock in on weekends - will mean working an extra five hours a day, on top of the standard eight-hour workday.

This has been criticised as a dangerously high and arbitrary standard before a worker's health is threatened.

Ms Takahashi killed herself after being made to work over 100 hours of overtime each month since she joined the firm in April 2015 until her death eight months later.

Dentsu was last year named "Most Evil Corporation" in a dubious annual honour given by a Japanese non-profit group to highlight abusive workplace practices among so-called burakku kigyo, or black companies.

This year's list of nominees, announced on Monday, includes public broadcaster NHK, building contractor Taisei, its subcontractor Sanshin Corp, tech giant Panasonic, Niigata City General Hospital and courier delivery firm Yamato Transport. - WALTER SIM

WORLD