TOKYO: The Japanese government is planning to amend labour laws to allow the limit of 40 working hours per week to be exceeded in certain professions without overtime pay.
This has sparked off a strong reaction from the country's labour unions.
The initiative, that has been backed by Japan's Industrial Competitiveness Council, will be included in a new strategy to stimulate economic growth that the government plans to introduce in June, the Nikkei daily reported Thursday.
Although this legislation is still in the drafting stage, it has already triggered protests from Japan's labour unions.
On Wednesday, the unions called for protests all over the country against what they consider to be a concession to the large companies.
For the first time ever, Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, organised simultaneous rallies in 47 prefectures of the country in protest against this proposal.
Around 22,000 people participated in these rallies, 3,800 of them in central Tokyo, according to the Asahi daily.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to calm the critics saying that the limit on weekly working hours would only be raised for certain high-grade professions with specialised functions and mainly from the finance sector, such as investment fund managers and forex traders.
In his speech in parliament Wednesday, the conservative politician added that workers would always have the option of rejecting that this clause applied to their contracts without it affecting their salaries.
The unions believe that the government "hopes to change the rules of protection for the workers in favour of the corporations", Nobuaki Koga, president of Rengo, said in a statement published by Asahi.
"The proposal is, after all, a system to not pay overtime," said the union leader, adding that if the initiative went through, the companies would be able to pay employees "according to their performance" and would be exempted from paying compensation for working night shifts or on holidays.
Presently, the Japanese labour laws only exempts senior management of companies from the legal limit of 40 hours per week.
All lower-ranking Japanese employees who work beyond the existing work limit are entitled to overtime pay, which in many cases is considered an incentive to increase working hours without necessarily increasing productivity.
The government aims to push through the new legislation proposal during the next year and put it into effect in 2016.
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