Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes various forms of rape, regardless of the gender of a victim. The law also criminalizes custodial rape of a minor younger than age 18. The law does not deny spousal rape, but no court has ever ruled on such a case, except in situations of marital breakdown (i.e., formal or informal separation, etc.). The law mandates a minimum sentence of five years in prison. In the past, courts interpreted the law to mean that physical resistance by the victim is necessary to find that a sexual encounter was rape. Domestic violence is also a crime for which victims may seek restraining orders. Convicted assault perpetrators face up to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 300,000 yen ($2,600), convicted offenders who caused bodily injury faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a fine up of up to 500,000 yen ($4,400), and protective orders violators faced up to one year’s imprisonment or a fine of up to one million yen ($8,800).
NGOs and legal experts pointed out a lack of training for judges, prosecutors, and lawyers about sexual crimes and victims.
Rape and domestic violence are believed to be significantly underreported crimes, although no recent data are available. Observers attributed women’s reluctance to report rape to a variety of factors, including a lack of victim support, potential secondary victimization through the police response, and court proceedings that lacked understanding for rape victims.
Victims of abuse by domestic partners, spouses, and former spouses could receive protection at shelters.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment but includes measures to identify companies that fail to prevent it. Prefectural labor offices and the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare provided these companies with advice, guidance, and recommendations. Companies that fail to comply with government guidance may be publicly identified, but the government has not publicized any company for sexual harassment since 2015, when a private hospital was identified for dismissing a woman employee due to pregnancy. Sexual harassment in the workplace persisted. In the first survey of its kind, in 2016 the ministry reported that 30 percent of women in full- and part-time employment reported being sexually harassed at work. Among full-time workers, the figure was 35 percent. In April a senior career official at the Finance Ministry resigned after allegations that he sexually harassed a female journalist and following public criticism that the ministry initially mishandled the matter. The government has since released a set of measures to prevent sexual harassment, including requiring all senior national government officials to take mandatory training courses, as well as setting up a consultation mechanism in each ministry and agency where the general public can report sexual harassment (see section 7.d.).
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
From January to October, seven individuals, both female and male, who were involuntarily sterilized from 1948 to 1996 under a policy that targeted people with disabilities under the defunct Eugenic Protection Law, sought damages from the government. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare estimated approximately 25,000 people underwent sterilization surgeries under that law.
Discrimination: The law prohibits gender discrimination and generally provides women the same rights as men. The Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office continued to examine policies and monitor developments.
Despite these policies, NGOs continued to allege that implementation of antidiscrimination measures was insufficient, pointing to discriminatory provisions in the law, unequal treatment of women in the labor market (see section 7.d.), and low representation of women in high-level elected bodies. Tokyo Medical University admitted in August that it had deliberately altered entrance exam scores for more than a decade to restrict the number of female students and ensure more men became doctors. In response, MEXT undertook a study of all medical universities in Japan, 81 in total, to examine if any others had altered entrance exam results to limit female students. MEXT concluded that 10 medical universities had altered entrance exam results to limit female students and instructed the universities to rectify the inappropriate practice.
NGOs continued to urge the government to allow married couples a choice of surnames.
Birth Registration: The law grants citizenship at birth to: a child of a Japanese father who either is married to the child’s mother or recognizes his paternity; a child of a Japanese mother; or, a child born in the country to parents who are both unknown or are stateless. The law requires registration within 14 days after in-country birth or within three months after birth abroad, and these deadlines were generally met. Individuals were allowed to register births after the deadline but were required to pay a fine.
The law requires birth entries in the family registry to specify whether a child was born in or out of wedlock, but the law no longer denies full inheritance rights to children born out of wedlock. The law presumes that a child born within 300 days of a divorce is the divorced man’s child, resulting in the nonregistration of an unknown number of children.
Child Abuse: Reports of child abuse increased due to increased public awareness, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. Sexual abuse of children by teachers was reported. Child assistance experts advocated the need for MEXT to actively share information on teachers involved in child molestation with the police to prevent further victimization of children in schools. The law provides for a simplified process to inspect homes where child abuse is suspected; requires child welfare offices to have legal, psychological, and medical experts on staff; allows more municipalities to have child welfare offices; and raised the age of eligibility for staying at public homes.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates that to marry, the male partner must be age 18 or older and the female partner 16 or older. A person younger than age 20 may not marry without at least one parent’s approval. The Act to Partially Amend the Civil Code, which will create parity between men and women for the legal age to marry, setting it at 18 for both sexes, was promulgated in June 2018 and will come into force in 2022.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child prostitution is illegal, with penalties including prison sentences or fines. Statutory rape laws criminalize sexual intercourse with a girl younger than age 13, notwithstanding her consent. The penalty for statutory rape is not less than three years’ imprisonment with mandatory labor, and the law was enforced. Additionally, national law and local ordinances comprehensively address sexual abuse of minors. Possession of child pornography is a crime. The commercialization of child pornography is illegal; the penalty is imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or a fine not exceeding three million yen ($26,400), and police continued to crack down on this crime.
The continued practice of enjo kosai (compensated dating) and the existence of websites for online dating, social networking, and “delivery health” (a euphemism for call-girl or escort services) facilitated the sex trafficking of children and other commercial sex industries. The government’s interagency taskforce to combat child sex trafficking in Joshi kosei (or “JK” businesses)–dating services connecting adult men with underage girls–and in forced pornography continued to strengthen its crackdown on such businesses. As part of the taskforce’s efforts, police arrested 42 managers or customers of “JK” businesses while rescuing 25 minor victims from April to December 2017.
NGOs helping girls in “JK business” reported a link between these activities and the commercial sexual exploitation of children in prostitution.
The country was a site for the production of child pornography and the exploitation of children by traffickers.
In January police arrested and charged the head of an entertainment industry job-placement agency and the operator of a pornographic video-production company for inducing women and girls to engage in sexual intercourse for the purpose of profit–the first application of this criminal statute in more than 80 years. Nevertheless, the Public Prosecutor’s Office did not prosecute the suspects. No law addresses the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics, and video games, some of which depicted scenes of violent sexual abuse and the rape of children.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
No official statistics of the Jewish population in the country were available. According to a Jewish community representative, approximately 100 households are active members of the community. The representative reported there were rare protests by a handful of individuals that involved anti-Semitic speech.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, intellectual, mental, or other disabilities affecting body and mind and bars infringement of their rights and interests on the grounds of disability in the public and private sectors. The law requires the public sector to provide reasonable accommodations and the private sector to make best efforts in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other services. The laws do not stipulate remedies for persons with disabilities who experience discriminatory acts nor do they establish penalties for noncompliance. Other law mandates that the government and private companies hire minimum proportions (2 percent) of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities) or be fined. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the fine rather than hire persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).
A government study released in August showed that 27 central government ministries and agencies had inflated their employment rates of persons with disabilities. Local municipalities also announced they had failed to meet hiring quotas of persons with disabilities. In response the government started accepting applications in December for the first national public-service examination specifically for persons with disabilities for hiring in April 2019.
Accessibility laws mandate that new construction projects for public use must include provisions for persons with disabilities. The government may grant low interest loans and tax benefits to operators of hospitals, theaters, hotels, and other public facilities if they upgrade or install features to accommodate persons with disabilities.
Nonetheless, persons with disabilities faced limited access to some public-sector services. Abuse of persons with disabilities was a serious concern. Persons with disabilities around the country experienced abuse by family members, care-facility employees, or employers. Private surveys indicated discrimination against and sexual abuse of, women with disabilities. Nagano District Court’s Matsumoto Branch ruled on May 23 in a civil suit that a former employee of a welfare facility for persons with disabilities, Ensemble Kai, had illegal indecent contact with a woman with intellectual disabilities at the facility, ordering the man and the facility to pay compensation of 3.3 million yen ($29,000).
While some schools provided inclusive education, children with disabilities generally attended specialized schools.
Mental health professionals criticized as insufficient the government’s efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness and inform the public that depression and other mental illnesses are treatable and biologically based.
Minorities experienced varying degrees of societal discrimination.
The law specifically addresses discrimination against Buraku (the descendants of feudal-era outcasts). It obligates national and local governments to study discrimination against Buraku, implement awareness education, and enhance the counseling system.
Buraku advocacy groups continued to report that, despite socioeconomic improvements achieved by many Buraku, widespread discrimination persisted in employment, marriage, housing, and property assessment. While the Buraku label was no longer officially used to identify individuals, the family registry system could be used to identify them and facilitate discriminatory practices. Buraku advocates expressed concern that employers who required family registry information from job applicants for background checks, including many government agencies, might use this information to identify and discriminate against Buraku applicants.
Despite legal safeguards against discrimination, foreign permanent residents in the country and nonethnically Japanese citizens, including many who were born, raised, and educated in the country, were subjected to various forms of entrenched societal discrimination, including restricted access to housing, education, health care, and employment opportunities. Foreign nationals as well as “foreign looking” citizens reported they were prohibited entry, sometimes by signs reading “Japanese Only,” to privately owned facilities serving the public, including hotels and restaurants. Although such discrimination was usually open and direct, NGOs complained of government failure to enforce laws prohibiting such restrictions.
Representatives of the ethnic Korean community said hate speech against them in public and on social networking sites continued. Additionally, there was no indication of increased societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans. Although authorities approved most naturalization applications, advocacy groups continued to complain about excessive bureaucratic hurdles that complicated the naturalization process and a lack of transparent criteria for approval. Ethnic Koreans who chose not to naturalize faced difficulties in terms of civil and political rights and regularly encountered discrimination in job promotions as well as access to housing, education, and other benefits.
Senior government officials publicly repudiated the harassment of ethnic groups as inciting discrimination and reaffirmed the protection of individual rights for everyone in the country.
Although the Ainu enjoy the same rights as all other citizens, Ainu persons reported cases of discrimination in the workplace, marriage, and schools, according to a 2017 Hokkaido Prefectural Government’s Ainu Association survey of Ainu persons. The law emphasizes preservation of Ainu culture but lacks some provisions that Ainu groups have demanded, including national-level social welfare policies and educational grants, special representation in local and national governments, and a formal government apology for historical injustices. The government recognizes the Ainu as an indigenous ethnic group per a unanimous Diet resolution, but the recognition has no legal ramifications.
Although the government does not recognize the Ryukyu (a term that includes residents of Okinawa and portions of Kagoshima Prefecture) as indigenous people, it officially acknowledged their unique culture and history and made efforts to preserve and show respect for those traditions.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There are no existing penalties associated with such discrimination, and no related statistics were available. The law allows transgender individuals to change their legal gender but only after receiving a diagnosis of sexual-identity disorder. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) advocacy organizations reported no impediments to organization but some instances of bullying, harassment, and violence. Stigma surrounding LGBTI persons remained an impediment to self-reporting of discrimination or abuse, and studies on bullying and violence in schools generally did not take into account the sexual orientation or gender identity of the persons involved.
A ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Diet member, Mio Sugita, wrote in a July article that LGBTI persons are “unproductive” as they do not give birth to children. After the article’s release, the LDP issued a statement saying that the party aimed for a diverse society, including LGBTI persons, and admonishing Sugita. The magazine subsequently ceased publication after an extensive public backlash against Sugita and the magazine, including from the disability community and prominent writers.
In October the Tokyo Prefectural Government, as host city of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, enacted a law that states, “the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, citizens, and enterprises may not unduly discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation,” in order to realize the antidiscrimination Olympic Charter. An NGO, Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, publicly lauded the ordinance as the first-ever prefectural ordinance to ban discrimination against LGBTI persons, but it also expressed concern about its effectiveness due to the lack of a remedies clause.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
No law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, although nonbinding Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare guidelines state that firms should not terminate or fail to hire individuals based on their HIV status. Courts have awarded damages to individuals fired from positions due to that status.
Concern about discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with the disease, and fear of dismissal, prevented many persons from disclosing their HIV/AIDS status.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements and protects their rights to strike and bargain collectively.
The law places limitations on the right of public-sector workers and employees of state-owned enterprises to form and join unions of their choice. Public-sector employees may participate in public-service employee unions, which may negotiate collectively with their employers on wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. Public-sector employees do not have the right to strike; trade union leaders who incite a strike in the public sector may be dismissed and fined or imprisoned. Firefighting personnel and prison officers are prohibited from organizing and collectively bargaining.
Workers in sectors providing essential services, including electric power generation and transmission, transportation and railways, telecommunications, medical care and public health, and the postal service must give 10 days’ advance notice to authorities before organizing a strike. Employees involved in providing essential services do not have the right to collective bargaining.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.
The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association, collective bargaining, and legal strikes. Government oversight and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. In the case of a violation, a worker or union may lodge an objection with the Labor Committee, which may issue a relief order for action by the employer. A plaintiff may then take the matter to a civil court. If the court upholds the relief order and determines that a violation of that order has occurred, it may impose a fine, imprisonment, or both.
The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, but increasing use of short-term contracts undermined regular employment and frustrated organizing efforts. Collective bargaining was common in the private sector, although some businesses changed their form of incorporation to a holding company structure, not legally considered an employer, to circumvent employee protections under the law.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.
Violations persisted and enforcement was lacking in some segments of the labor market, for example, in sectors where foreign workers were employed; however, in general the government effectively enforced the law. Legal penalties for forced labor varied depending on its form, the victim(s), and the law that prosecutors used to prosecute such offenses. Not all forms of forced or compulsory labor were clearly defined by law, nor did they all carry penalties sufficient to deter violations. For example, the law criminalizes forced labor and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but it also allows for fines in lieu of incarceration. NGOs argued that reliance on multiple and overlapping statutes hindered the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking crimes, especially for cases involving forced labor with elements of psychological coercion.
Reports of forced labor continued in the manufacturing, construction, and shipbuilding sectors, largely in small- and medium-size enterprises employing foreign nationals through the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). This program allows foreign workers to enter the country and work for up to five years in a de facto guest worker program that many observers assessed to be rife with vulnerabilities to trafficking and other labor abuses.
Workers in these jobs experienced restrictions on freedom of movement and communication with persons outside the program, nonpayment of wages, excessive working hours, high debts to brokers in countries of origin, and retention of identity documents. For example, women from Cambodia and China recounted long hours, poor living conditions, restricted freedom of movement, and nonpayment of wages while they were working in a Gifu textile factory. Workers were also sometimes subjected to “forced savings” that they forfeited by leaving early or being forcibly repatriated. For example, some technical interns reportedly paid up to one million yen ($8,900) in their home countries for jobs and were reportedly employed under contracts that mandated forfeiture of those funds to agents in their home country if workers attempted to leave, both of which are illegal under the TITP. In 2017 the government established an oversight body, the Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT), which conducted on-site inspections of TITP workplaces. There is concern that the OTIT is understaffed, insufficiently accessible to persons who do not speak Japanese, and ineffective at prosecuting labor abuse cases.
Workers who entered the country illegally or who overstayed their visas were particularly vulnerable. NGOs maintained government oversight was insufficient.
Despite the prevalence of forced labor within the TITP, no case has ever led to a labor trafficking prosecution.
On December 8, the country enacted legislation that creates new categories of working visas to bring in more skilled and blue-collar workers and upgrades the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau to an agency that will oversee companies that accept foreign workers. NGOs expressed concern that the new law does not adequately safeguard against the potential for continued labor abuses, such as those that have been present in the TITP.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Children ages 15 to 18 may perform any job not designated as dangerous or harmful, such as handling heavy objects or cleaning, inspecting, or repairing machinery while in operation; however, they are prohibited from working late night shifts. Children ages 13 to 15 years may perform “light labor” only, and children younger than age 13 may work only in the entertainment industry.
The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for child labor violations included fines and imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations.
Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on religion, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or language.
The law mandates equal pay for men and women; however, the International Labor Organization has noted the law’s protection against such wage discrimination is too limited because it does not capture the concept of “work of equal value.” The June revisions to the Part-timer Labor Law, Labor Contract Law and the Labor Dispatch Law, which passed as part of the “Workstyle Reform Package Bills,” included provisions to obligate employers to treat regular and nonregular workers equally when 1) the job contents are the same and 2) the scope of expected changes to the job content and work location are the same. Enforcement regulations of the equal employment opportunity law also include prohibitions against policies or practices that were adopted not with discriminatory intent but which have a discriminatory effect (called “indirect discrimination” in law) for all workers in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and changes of job type. Enforcement of these provisions was generally weak.
Revisions in 2017 to child-care and nursing-care leave laws offered greater flexibility in taking family-care leave by, for example, allowing employees to divide their permitted leave into three separate instances. The revisions also increased fixed-term contract workers’ eligibility for child-care leave. The revised employment law obligates employers to take measures to prevent what is known as matahara(maternity harassment). The law also allows parents to extend paternity/maternity leave by an additional six months if child-care facilities are not available, enabling parents to take leave for up to two years after a birth. The law requires national and local governments, as well as private-sector companies that employ at least 301 people, to analyze women’s employment in their organizations and release action plans to promote women’s participation and advancement.
The law mandates that both government and private companies hire at or above a designated minimum proportion of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities). An April revision to the law increased the minimum hiring rate for the government from 2.3 percent to 2.5 percent and for private companies from 2.0 percent to 2.2 percent. The revision also stipulates that the minimum hiring ratio for private companies should be raised further to 2.3 percent before April 2021. By law companies with more than 200 employees that do not comply with requirements to hire minimum proportions of persons with disabilities must pay a fine per vacant position per month. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the mandated fine rather than hire persons with disabilities.
In cases of violation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare may request the employer report the matter, and the ministry may issue advice, instructions, or corrective guidance. If the employer does not follow the ministry’s guidance, the employer’s name may be publicly disclosed. If the employer fails to report or files a false report, the employer may be subject to a fine. Government hotlines in prefectural labor bureau equal employment departments handled consultations concerning sexual harassment and mediated disputes when possible.
There is no penalty for government entities failing to meet the legal minimum hiring ratio for persons with disabilities. In August a large number of ministries and some regional governments admitted they overstated their ratio of employees with disabilities in fiscal year 2017. According to data released by the MHLW, the overall hiring rate for persons with disabilities in the central government was 2.5 percent and for the prefectural government was 2.65 percent as of June 2017. Many government entities, however, were suspected of overstating the figures. MHLW carried out a nationwide survey of all government entities in September to investigate the matter.
Women continued to express concern about unequal treatment in the workforce. Women’s average monthly wage was approximately 73 percent of that of men in 2017.
Reports of employers forcing pregnant women to leave their jobs continued, although there are no recent data on this problem. In December media reported the case of a Vietnamese technical trainee who was told to have an abortion or quit her job.
The government encouraged private companies to report gender statistics in annual financial reports. The government also continued to increase child-care facilities.
In November 2017 the Japanese Trade Union Confederation released a survey on harassment and violence, which said more than 50 percent of respondents reported they had personally experienced or observed workplace harassment.
The MHLW said in 2017, the latest year for which such data were available, that the number of employers or supervisors who abused persons with disabilities fell 13.4 percent in the Japanese fiscal year ending in March. The decrease was attributed to a wider recognition in workplaces of a law aimed at combating abuse of workers with disabilities and to enforcement efforts by labor standards inspectors.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage ranged from 737 to 958 yen ($6.50 to $8.50) per hour, depending on the prefecture. The poverty line was 1.22 million yen ($10,900) per year.
The law provides for a 40-hour workweek for most industries and, with exceptions, limits the number of overtime hours permitted in a fixed period. It mandates premium pay of no less than 25 percent for more than eight hours of work in a day, up to 45 overtime hours per month. For overtime of between 45 and 60 hours per month, the law requires companies to “make efforts” to furnish premium pay greater than 25 percent. It mandates premium pay of at least 50 percent for overtime that exceeds 60 hours a month.
The June Workstyle Reform Package Bills included the first-ever legal cap on overtime work and established penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for violations. These provisions come into force in April 2019 for large companies and in April 2020 for small- and medium-sized companies. In principle, overtime work will be permitted only up to 45 hours per month and 360 hours per year. Even in the case of special and temporary circumstances, it must be limited to less than 720 hours per year and 100 hours per month (including holiday work), and the average hours of overtime work over a period of more than two months must be less than 80 hours (including holiday work). The reform package bills also included provisions to introduce the Highly Professional System (the Japanese version of a white-collar exemption), which would eliminate the requirement to pay any overtime (including premium pay for holiday work or late-night work) for a small number of highly skilled professionals earning an annual salary of more than approximately 10 million yen ($89,400).
The government sets industrial safety and health (ISH) standards. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The MHLW is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations governing wages, hours, and safety and health standards in most industries. The National Personnel Authority covers government officials. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry covers ISH standards for mining, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is responsible for ISH standards in the maritime industry.
The Minimum Wage Law provides for a fine for employers who fail to pay a minimum wage, regardless of the number of employees involved or the duration of the violation. Other labor laws such as the Industrial Safety and Health Standards Law and the Labor Standards Law also provide for fines for employers who fail to comply with the laws. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. In October 2017 a Tokyo court fined a major advertising agency 500,000 yen ($4,460) for failing to prevent excessive overtime worked by its employees. This court decision followed the Tokyo Labor Bureau’s ruling in 2016 that determined that the 2015 death of a young woman was a case of karoshi (death by overwork), after records showed the employee booked 130 hours of overtime in one month and slept just 10 hours per week. This finding against a major advertising agency brought renewed attention to the severe consequences of overwork and led to legislative changes to limit overtime work. Labor unions continued to criticize the government for failing to enforce the law regarding maximum working hours, and workers, including those in government jobs, routinely exceeded the hours outlined in the law.
In general the government effectively enforced applicable ISH law and regulations in all sectors. Penalties for ISH violations included fines and imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations. While inspectors have the authority to suspend unsafe operations immediately in cases of flagrant safety violations, in lesser cases they may provide nonbinding shidou (guidance). MHLW officials frequently stated that their resources were inadequate to oversee more than 4.3 million firms.
Nonregular workers (which include part-time workers, fixed-term contract workers, and dispatch workers) made up approximately 37 percent of the labor force in 2017. They worked for lower wages and often with less job security and fewer benefits than career workers. Some nonregular workers qualified for various benefits, including insurance, pension, and training. Observers reported a rise in four- or five-year contracts and the termination of contracts shortly before the five-year mark, when employees may ask their employer to make them permanent. Workers in academic positions, such as researchers, technical workers, and teachers in universities, were eligible for 10-year contracts.
Reports of abuses in the TITP were common, including injuries due to unsafe equipment and insufficient training, nonpayment of wages and overtime compensation, excessive and often spurious salary deductions, forced repatriation, and substandard living conditions (also see section 7.b.). In addition, observers alleged that a conflict of interest existed, since the inspectors who oversee the TITP working conditions were employed by two ministries that are members of the interagency group administering the TITP. Some inspectors appeared reluctant to conduct investigations that could cast a negative light on a government program that business owners favored.
There were also reports of informal employment of foreign asylum seekers on provisional release from detention who did not have work permits. Such workers were vulnerable to mistreatment and did not have access to standard labor protections or oversight.
Falls, road traffic accidents, and injuries caused by heavy machinery were the most common causes of workplace fatalities. The MHLW also continued to receive applications from family members seeking the ministry’s recognition of a deceased individual as a karoshi victim.