x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 October 2017

Japan vows no more deaths from overwork while building Olympic arena

Parents of 23-year old petitioned government to recognise his suicide as "death by overwork"

The construction site of the New National Stadium, the main stadium of Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Stadiums have pleddged to curb working hours after a 23-year-old committed suicide because he was so overworked. Issei Kato / Reuters
The construction site of the New National Stadium, the main stadium of Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Stadiums have pleddged to curb working hours after a 23-year-old committed suicide because he was so overworked. Issei Kato / 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 recognise his suicide as "karoshi" — or "death by overwork". He was reported to have worked 200 hours of overtime in the month before his death.

"To our regret, illegal overtime was recognised as a result of inspection by the labour ministry," said Tadashi Mochizuki, director of the Japan Sport Council (JSC), which manages the stadium and 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. Construction began in December 2016.

Japan's fast-ageing society has left employers grappling with an acute labour shortage. It officially recognises 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. The government has sent an overtime threshold of 80 hours a month but a white paper in 2016 showed that more than a fifth of company staff exceeded it.

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.