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Japan parental leave case puts spotlight on workers' rights

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Sep 13, 2019, 07.39 PM (IST) Edited By: Shivani Kumar

Two male employees in Japan sued their employers for alleged harassment after taking paternity leave, a case that again shone a spotlight on the country's ruthless work culture.

Among the complainants, one is a Japanese national and a Canadian national working in Japan; both allege that their employers sidelined them from their main responsibilities after they resumed work post paternity leave.

The Japanese government allows both men and women to take one year off after childbirth. During the paternity leave, employees are eligible for government benefits, however, they are not guaranteed pay from their employer.

Despite such strong legal systems, why do Japanese workers feel so overworked? from the 1950s onwards, post-war Japan set a benchmark for hard work for the world over. In its golden age of growth, Japan’s corporations offered lifelong job security and high wages in return for the long working hours, loyalty and service.

In japan death by overwork claimed 191 people in 2016 and, according to a government report, over a fifth of Japanese employees are at risk through working more than 80 hours of overtime a month which is usually unpaid work, a Ranconteur report said. 

One in ten Japanese workers clock over 100  hours of overtime each month, the report also said.

Not just this, convenience stores in Japan sell clean shirts for workers who haven’t had a chance to go home, In Japan, there is a genre of literature, kodoku which romanticises the loneliness of Japanese workers who have little time or inclination to see friends or find a partner.

And not just men, even Japanese women face outright discrimination in offices because they could become mothers someday.

If women prioritise their home life over their company by leaving early or at a normal time to pick up their children from daycare, they find themselves being passed over for promotions and raises.

Even though Prime Minister Shinzo abe spent six years encouraging women to join the workforce, still 70 per cent Japanese women leave their jobs after the first child.

But what about the rest of the world?

According to a report, 90 countries don’t offer paternity leave time at all – including the US.

South Korea offers the most, at 52 weeks, with Sweden, Slovenia and Iceland offering 12 weeks each. Finland 11 weeks which is then followed by Spain offering 8 weeks. 

India and France both offer two weeks of paternity leave.

Story highlights

Among the complainants, one is a Japanese national and a Canadian national working in Japan; both allege that their employers sidelined them from their main responsibilities after they resumed work post paternity leave.