(Repeats Sunday story with no changes)
* Long hours, low overtime pay have become standard practice
* Union survey shows workers not paid for 44 pct of overtime
* In a deferential culture, staff typically don't speak out
* Wages up just 2.1 pct since late 2012, consumption up 1.2
* PM Abe trying to change work culture, progress limited
By Stanley White and Izumi Nakagawa
TOKYO, Dec 18 Japanese workers put up with long
hours and unpaid overtime under pressure from cost-saving
companies, and figures from government, which wants more money
in workers' pockets to boost consumer spending, appear to
underestimate the problem.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to enact labour reforms
as part of his "Abenomics" plan to end decades of stagnant
growth and deflation. His proposals include measures to cut
working hours and limit overtime, raise wages for temporary
workers and make things easier for employees with children.
By law, both management and rank-and-file employees should
get paid for extra work, but companies have been discouraging
overtime claims for so long that employees accept it as normal.
Government data shows that Japanese work an average of 14.2
hours of overtime a month, but 2,000 respondents in a recent
survey by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation said they
worked an average of 40.3 hours of overtime a month, and get
paid for just 22.7.
"Workers often face pressure from their superiors, sometimes
in subtle, unspoken ways, to claim less overtime hours than
actually worked," said Toshiaki Matsumoto, chief executive of HR
Strategy, a human resources consultancy.
A deferential work culture means few speak up.
"Often I don't bother claiming overtime because my projects
would run over budget, and that would hurt my chances for
promotion," said one 38-year-old IT engineer who asked not to be
named for fear of upsetting his boss.
He estimates that he works an average of 50 unpaid overtime
hours a month, often leaving the office at 8 p.m., spending some
time with his wife and 3-year-old son before bed, then getting
up at 3 a.m. to tackle unfinished work.
A 26-year-old Tokyo man who works in sales at a steel
trading company said his employer regularly pressured workers
into reducing hours on their overtime forms. In busy times he
works from 7 a.m. to midnight, plus Saturdays.
"The amount of overtime has left me exhausted," he said.
At times, the punishingly long hours can have tragic
The suicide of a 24-year-old ad agency worker who clocked up
105 hours of overtime in the month before she fell into
depression was last month ruled "karoshi", or death by overwork.
Abe's pleas for businesses to put up wages to kickstart the
economy have largely fallen on deaf ears. But if the results for
the union survey are extrapolated nationwide, just paying
employees for the hours they work could push up consumer
spending by 13.4 percent, according to Reuters calculations
based on monthly wage data and the propensity to consume.
"It's a problem if you're working long hours and not getting
the compensation you're entitled to," said Norio Miyagawa,
senior economist at Mizuho Securities, adding that working long
hours also meant people didn't have time to go out and spend.
In an era of weak global demand and uncertainty about
economic prospects, Japanese companies have been hoarding cash
rather than sharing it with the workforce.
Since Abe took office in late 2012, recurring profits have
gone up 62.3 percent, but staff compensation has grown a miserly
2.1 percent. Household spending has risen just 1.6 percent
during the same period.
"Companies are without a doubt robbing workers of their
wages and free time," said Toko Shirakawa, a visiting professor
at Sagami Women's University and a member of the government's
work culture panel.
But cultural and workplace expectations are difficult to
change overnight, and civil servants say the government also
needs to get its own house in order.
One 26-year-old at a government agency in downtown Tokyo
said he was paid for about 70 percent of the overtime hours he
"I request pay for all the overtime hours I work, but we
operate on a fixed budget, which means you don't automatically
receive the full amount," said the man, who declined to be
named. "I feel like I'm working for free."
(Reporting and writing by Stanley White and Izumi Nakagawa;
Editing by Malcolm Foster and Will Waterman)