Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has embarked on a perilous and radical policy. He aims to combat a free-falling economy and problems associated with an aging population.

Japanese business is notorious for being the most brutal and demanding in the world.

Hundreds of workers die from work related diseases – heart attack, stroke, or suicide directly related to pressures at work. So much so the phenomenon has its own term – karoshi.

Business leaders encourage the attitude that a person is lazy or weak if they take all their vacation days. Most Japanese workers take only nine of their allotted 20 days annual leave; those who do usually use the time to cover sick days.

Those who leave work before their bosses are stigmatised and shamed.

Work cultures encourage a mentality of ‘service overtime’, where employees recognise the need to prove their loyalty and drive to the company through performing unpaid overtime – and lots of it.

In a video entitled ‘A week in the life of a Tokyo salaryman,’ a British ex-pat documents the workplace brutality. During peak months one financial services company recorded its workers typically performing 80-hour weeks – 13 hours a day, six days a week; leaving the office at 11pm, all of the overtime unpaid.

Figures obtained for the period of 2013 show 22 per cent of fulltime employees exceeded the 49 hour work week..

Figures like this are used to decide whether a death can be attributed to work.

And they are. Many people quite literally work themselves to death.

60 per cent of women flee the workforce once they find out they’re pregnant. Those who remain are stigmatised.

As one woman was asked by her HR department, “If your husband can’t be the breadwinner, why did he get you pregnant?”

Shinzo Abe is trying to ease the brutal conditions surrounding pervading Japanese work culture. He hopes to increase the number of women in the workforce and has set the laudable target of having 30 per cent of leadership positions filled by women.

New laws aimed at curbing karoshi were dubbed ‘largely symbolic’ by the Japan Times; with the newspaper calling on the government to back up its calls for work reforms with legislation.

Businesses, however, stand to gain nothing by the imposition of such laws. They currently profit from the Dickensian workhouse system – and they have powerful lobbyists in politics.

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org

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