Japan vows no more deaths from overwork while building Olympic arena

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TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese sports official promised on Friday to work with the builder of a showpiece stadium for the 2020 Olympics to stamp out “death by overwork”, a designation authorities applied last week to the suicide of a stadium worker.

The parents of the 23-year-old petitioned the government this year to recognize his suicide as “karoshi” – or “death by overwork”, with media saying he had worked 200 hours of overtime a month before his death.

“To our regret, illegal overtime was recognized as a result of inspection by the labor ministry,” said Tadashi Mochizuki, director of stadium manager the Japan Sport Council (JSC), which is part of a joint venture with construction firm Taisei Corp.

“We, JSC and Taisei, took it sincerely and we’ll do the utmost (to comply with the law) in proceeding with construction.”

Authorities unveiled a model of the new stadium in the Japanese capital, which is set to be completed in November 2019, after construction begun in December 2016.

Japan’s fast-ageing society has left employers grappling with an acute labor shortage. It officially recognizes two types of “karoshi”: cardiovascular illness linked to overwork, and suicide following mental stress related to work.

Employers face few curbs on overtime and pay, so that more than a fifth of company staff exceeded a government overtime threshold of 80 hours a month, a white paper showed in 2016.

The trend was spotlighted by a high-profile death from overwork in 2015 at advertising giant Dentsu Inc. Last week, public broadcaster NHK said a 31-year-old reporter died four years ago of overwork.

To tackle the problem, the government plans sweeping reforms of job practices, including overtime caps and better pay for part-time and contract workers.

Writing by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Clarence Fernandez



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