Create workplaces where employees feel safe from harassment, overwork

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Staff members work behind transparent sheets as a preventive measure to stop the spread of Covid-19 at a city hall in Fukaya, Saitama prefecture. In Japan, as many as 2,060 people applied for workers’ compensation for mental illnesses caused mainly by job stress in fiscal 2019. AFP

Cases continue to emerge of depression caused by work in Japan. It is essential for both the public and private sectors to create workplaces where employees can have peace of mind.

According to Japan’s Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry, as many as 2,060 people applied for workers’ compensation for mental illnesses caused mainly by job stress in fiscal 2019. Of this number, 509 applications were accepted. Both figures are record highs. This situation cannot be overlooked.

The most common cause of mental illness was so-called power harassment, including harassment, bullying and physical violence. A typical example is depression caused by being reprimanded every day by a superior and being told to quit one’s company.

Instructions and advice are necessary in the course of business, but speaking and behaving in a manner that causes mental illness in other people should never be allowed.

Under the revised law on general promotion of labour policy, large companies have been obliged to take steps to prevent power harassment from June. The revision will be applied to small and midsize companies in April 2022. It is important to implement effective measures, such as setting up consultation desks and educating employees.

Not only serious power harassment, but also working long hours can lead to suicide in some cases. It was learned last month that workers’ compensation was granted in the case of a male employee of Mitsubishi Motors Corp, as he committed suicide due to extreme fatigue stemming from long working hours.

There may be places where the working environment is deteriorating due to constant excessive work caused by labour shortages. Companies must pay close attention to the health of their employees.

Overtime is limited to a maximum of 720 hours a year. Although small and midsize companies have been subject to the new restriction since April, a survey by a private organisation found that about 20 per cent of these companies are not ready to comply.

Not a few companies have no full-time personnel in charge of labour affairs and lack expertise. The government has set up a support centre for the promotion of work style reform in each prefecture and provides consultations and seminars. Hopefully, the government will raise awareness of the support centre in tandem with a subsidy system for the improvement of working environments.

A structure in which companies make unreasonable demands on subcontractors tends to cause excessive labour. The nature of the transactions should be scrutinised.

Teleworking is spreading as a countermeasure against Covid-19. A close watch should be kept so that this does not lead to power harassment or long working hours. There are concerns that online instructions tend to be unilateral and are given day and night. Managing working hours is also difficult.

Companies must determine the amount of work that employees are to do based on their abilities and working hours, and provide employees with opportunities to come to the office and meet face to face.

It is necessary to make detailed changes in the workplace environment, in response to changes in society.