Japanese woman ‘dies from overwork’ after logging 159 hours of overtime in a month

Fate of media worker Miwa Sado, 31, heaps pressure on authorities to address large number of deaths links between labour practices

Japan has again been forced to confront its run culture after labour inspectors ruled that the death of a 31 -year-old journalist at the country’s public broadcaster, NHK, had been caused by overwork.

Miwa Sado, who worked at the broadcaster’s headquarters in Tokyo, logged 159 hours of overtime and took only two days off in the month leading up to her demise from heart failure in July 2013.

A labour standards office in Tokyo later attributed her death to karoshi ( death from overworking) but her occurrence was only made publicly available by her former employer this week.

Sado’s death is expected to increase pressure on Japanese authorities to address the large number of deaths attributed to the punishingly long hours expected of many employees.

The announcement comes a year after a similar ruling over the death of a young employee at Dentsu advertising agency prompted their own nationals debate over Japan’s attitude to work-life balance and calls to limit overtime.

Matsuri Takahashi was 24 when she killed herself in April 2015. Labour standards officials ruled that her demise had been caused by stress brings with it by long working hours. Takahashi had been working more than a 100 hours’ overtime in the months before her death.

Weeks before she died on Christmas Day 2015, she posted on social media:” I want to die .” Another message read:” I’m physically and mentally shattered .”

Her case triggered their own nationals debate about Japan’s work practices and forced the cabinet of ministers, Shinzo Abe, to address a workplace culture that are typically forces-out employees to put in long hours to demonstrate their dedication, even if there is little evidence that it improves productivity.

The government proposes to cap monthly overtime at 100 hours and introduce penalties for companies that allow their employees to exceed the limit- measures that critics say still set employees at risk.

In its first white paper on karoshi last year, the governmental forces said one in five employees were at risk of demise from overwork.

More than 2,000 Japanese killed themselves due to work-related stress in the year to March 2016, according to the government, while dozens of other victims died as a result of heart attacks, strokes and other conditions brought on by spending too much period at work.

According to the white paper, 22.7% of companies polled between December 2015 and January 2016 said some of their employees logged more than 80 hours of overtime each month- the level at which working hours are beginning to pose a serious risk to health.

Research shows that Japanese employees work significantly longer hours than their equivalents in the US, Britain and other developed world. Japan’s employees employed, on average, merely 8.8 days of their annual leave in 2015, less than half their allowance, according to the health ministry. That compares with 100% in Hong Kong and 78% in Singapore.

Sado, a political reporter, covered the Tokyo metropolitan assembly elections and national upper home elections in June and July 2013. She died three days after the upper home elections.

Masahiko Yamauchi, a senior official in NHK’s news department, conceded that Sado’s death reflected a” problem for our organisation as a whole, including the labour system and how elections are covered “.

Yamauchi said NHK had waited three years to make Sado’s death public out of respect for her family, according to Kyodo news.

In a statement issued through NHK, Sado’s mothers said:” Even today, four years on, we cannot accept our daughter’s death as a reality. We hope that the sorrow of a bereaved family will not be wasted .”

In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org .

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