The Japan labour standard office has determined the suicide of a 23-year-old man who worked at Tokyo’s new Olympic stadium construction site stemmed from overwork, and his family was eligible for government compensation.
Hiroshi Kawahito, a lawyer representing the victim’s family, said on Tuesday the victim, in charge of quality control of materials at the stadium site, recorded 190 hours of overtime in one month before killing himself in March, according to Japan’s NHK public television. The worker was less than a year on the job.
The amount of overtime was way more than 80 hours, a threshold for karoshi, or death from overwork. Labour officials in Tokyo found the victim, who was not identified by name, also recorded 160 hours of overtime in January.
Work at the new stadium has been intense because of its delayed start. An earlier stadium plan was scrapped due to spiraling costs and an unpopular design. On an average day, about 1,000 workers are at the project led by Taisei Corp., Japan’s construction giant.
The death of the worker captured national attention in July when his family sought the government to certify him as a karoshi victim. The body of the man was found in the central Japan mountains in April, weeks after he disappeared, with a suicide note saying he was “physically and mentally pushed to the limit.”
Overwork common among subcontractors
Government and company officials say they have since kept close tabs on overwork and taken measures to improve the working environment.
In late September, Tokyo labour officials who investigated nearly 800 subcontractors of Taisei found illegal overwork at nearly 40 companies. Workers at 18 companies did overtime exceeding 80 hours per month, and several of them exceeding 150 hours.
The construction sector is excluded from the government’s planned tightening of overtime limits for the time being. Last year, construction was one of the most karoshi-prone sectors in Japan, with 16 victims acknowledged by the government.
Latest high-profile karoshi case
The worker was the latest among recent high-profile karoshi cases.
Last Friday, in the case of Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old employee at Japanese advertisement agency Dentsu, Tokyo’s summary court ordered the company to pay a 500,000-yen ($5,500 Cdn) fine over her suicide in 2015. After doing 100 hours of overtime a month, Takahashi developed depression and leaped from her apartment building to death. The meager amount of the fine angered many Japanese, who sympathized with Takahashi and her mother, who has since become an anti-karoshi activist.
Also last week, NHK revealed its reporter who died of heart failure four years ago was certified as a karoshi victim in May 2016. Miwa Sato, then 31, was covering national elections. She was reportedly still holding her cellphone when found collapsed at home in the summer of 2013. NHK pledged to prevent the problem.
On top of the 40-hour workweek the labour standards law sets for most workers, an exception that serves as a loophole allows companies to establish voluntary ceilings for overtime, making the law toothless.