Archive for Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Killer work ethic difficult to change

July 15, 2008


— Death from too much work is so commonplace in Japan that there is a word for it: karoshi.

There is a national karoshi hot line, a karoshi self-help book and a law that funnels money to the widow and children of a salaryman (it's almost always a man) who works himself into an early karoshi for the good of his company.

A local Japanese government agency ruled June 30 for the widow and children of a 45-year-old Toyota chief engineer who died in 2006.

While organizing the worldwide manufacture of a hybrid version of the Camry sedan, the man had worked nights and weekends and often traveled abroad - putting in up to 114 hours of overtime a month - in the six months before he died in his bed of heart failure.

The cause of death was too much work, according to a ruling by the Labor Bureau of Aichi prefecture, where Toyota has its headquarters.

The engineer's daughter found his body on Jan. 2, 2006, the day before he was supposed to fly yet again to the United States for more work on the Camry launch, said Mikio Mizuno, an attorney for his wife.

The ruling will allow the engineer's family to receive work insurance benefits, Mizuno said. The family has requested that the man's name not be released.

For decades, the Japanese government has been trying, and largely failing, to set limits on work and on overtime. The problem of karoshi became prevalent enough to warrant its own word in the boom years of the late 1970s, as the number of Japanese men working more than 60 hours a week soared.

Twice in the past year, Toyota has been publicly embarrassed by the deaths of employees who worked what Japanese authorities have judged to be killingly long hours.

Unpaid overtime is routine in factories and offices across Japan.

At Toyota, it had been built into factory life - in the form of long, after-hours quality-control sessions that were supposedly voluntary - and was considered a key to the company's success. Participation in the sessions often figured in a worker's prospects for promotion and higher pay.

Toyota announced in May that it would begin paying overtime to workers for the quality-control sessions. Last week, the company said it would try to improve monitoring of workers' health.


Robert Marble 9 years, 10 months ago

" commonplace there is a word for it..."WTF?? Plutonium isn't very commonplace, but there is a word for it.

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