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White Collar Exemption bill to be renamed September 11, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Politics.

The new Minister for Health, Labour, and Welfare, Yoichi Masuzoe, has apparently called for the proposed white collar exemption bill to be renamed, because of the negative image attached with the current name.

The white collar exemption bill calls for increasing the number of white collar workers who will not be eligible for overtime pay, and has also been called the “no overtime pay” bill, which obviously doesn’t go down well with significant portions of the electorate.

So, Minister Masuzoe has decided it shall be called the “Happy Family” Bill. (家族団欒)

I guess the assumption is that with no incentive of overtime pay, workers will go home earlier and spend more time with their families and that will lead to some model of happy family life.

Maybe the fact that his appointment to the MHLW post has been seen as responsible for the (vanishingly brief) opinion poll recovery after the cabinet reshuffle, or the positive response to his theatrical (although probably heartfelt) performance lambasting MHLW officials who have recently been exposed as embezzling pensions funds (as well as screwing up the pension fund records) over decades and the organisation for being less than forward about making these incidents public or even punishing those involved, has gone to his head, but this latest attempt at media politics may be rather ill-advised.

Firstly, it is no secret that the white collar exemption bill is being pushed by the Keidanren and other big business lobbyists who are keen to add another way to reduce their wage bill. Apparently the vast restructuring over the course of a decade and hiring part-time or casual labourers (often illegally) in their place isn’t enough. Does Masuzoe want to be identified as another big business lapdog?

Secondly, exemption status already exists for people in managerial positions. There are actually several criteria which have to be met for exemption status to take effect, but the labour bureaux are lax about enforcing these criteria, which means that many companies again break the law by conferring vacuous managerial titles to employees who do not have the ability to control their workday as required by the exemption criteria. Given that many people who don’t conform to the current criteria are being denied overtime pay, it is natural for workers to fear that any new guidelines will also be subject to interpretation/(un)enforcement creep. Without meaningful changes to the way work is actually delegated to exempt employees, specifically with regards to realistic and achievable targets, and the explicit removal of time based management techniques (including but not limited to tactics like proclaiming flexible working hours but scheduling numerous regular meetings at the start/end of the day), this bill is certain to mean a reduction in the hourly wage of exempt employees.

Third, if the MHLW seriously thinks that the majority of people not covered by the current exemptions are in an economic position where they are willing and able to sacrifice money for more time with family to enhance their lifestyles, they really live in a parallel universe. Net earnings inclusive of overtime has not increased for the majority of middle class households for many years. Maybe these civil servants should swap places with a typical employee for a few months and find out what it is like in the real world.

Fourth, Masuzoe really shouldn’t talk about family issues, because that is just inviting the tabloids to take a good look at his personal life. Check out this week’s Shukan Bunshun magazine, as they have already started. Masuzoe has had an “unorthodox” personal life, by Japanese standards. He is currently on his 4th wife (his 3rd wife was Satsuki Katayama, another LDP politician), and has had 3 children, all out of wedlock (the first of which was born whilst Masuzoe was still technically married to Katayama). He is apparently currently being sued by the mother of the two younger children for breach of contract, according to the Bunshun article. Happy families indeed….

[For the record, I couldn’t care less about what kind of family or personal or private life an individual cares to lead, as long as it is legal and consensual. What I don’t care for is the pretense that this particular piece of legislation is being furthered for anything other than big businesses’ selfish interests]



1. Global Voices Online » Japan: The "Happy Family" Bill - September 12, 2007

[…] from the inside, looking in, blogger fukamimi writes about a new bill calling for an increase in the number of white collar workers not eligible f…. In an attempt to overcome its unpopular image, the bill has been named the “Happy […]

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