Critics question changes to Japan's working women laws
Parliament approves measures designed to end discrimination
June 12, 1997
Web posted at: 5:13 p.m. EDT (1713 GMT)
TOKYO (CNN) -- Women's rights advocates in Japan said
Thursday that two new laws passed on women's rights in the
workplace do too little to promote real change in Japan's
male-dominated business culture.
One of two bills adopted Wednesday by Japan's upper house of
Parliament scraps limits on women working overnight and
overtime, except for those who are pregnant or raising
Under the old law, employers in nearly all industries were
prohibited from requiring women to work between 10 p.m. and 5
a.m.. Certain workers, such as airline cabin crews, nurses
and broadcasters were exempt from the law.
And if they worked overtime in an attempt to get ahead in
their careers, apparently many weren't paid for it. Men could
rack up as many as 360 hours of overtime a year, while women
could only work up to 150 hours.
Women may face death through overwork
"Karoshi," or death through overwork, is already a common
problem among Japanese men. Scrapping the limit on overtime
for women puts them in the same boat, posing a threat to
their health, according to National Confederation of Trade
Unions spokesman Seiji Terama.
"According to Labor Ministry figures, the average worker puts
in 147 hours of overtime per year, but our figures show that
the actual number is more than three times that," he said.
"So scrapping the limit on overtime for women without putting
a general ceiling on work hours exposes both male and female
employees to overwork and abuse by employers," he added.
Few enforcement measures in anti-discrimination law
The other bill requires companies to step up efforts to
prevent discrimination against women in hiring and promotion.
An earlier law merely asked employers to "make efforts" to
ensure equal treatment and opportunity for women at the
Critics say the old law was inadequate, and the new one is
not much better, since it doesn't mention any fines or
penalties for violations. The only punishment for offending
companies is to be publicly identified -- which, many say, is
still not enough to change decades of discrimination.
Many Japanese women seem to agree with the critics, saying
companies are slow to change and government measures usually
have little impact.
"The will to change has to come from the people. If it's
just the law, it's superficial and things don't really
change," said one woman.
Laws could open up new opportunities for women
But Mayumi Moriyama, one of Japan's few female lawmakers and
an advocate of the recent changes to the anti-discrimination
laws, is more optimistic.
Women, she said, "can have ambitions because they have equal
opportunity, almost perfect equal opportunity, now."
The restrictions kept women from assuming some management
positions, and prevented women police officers from winning
promotions and more challenging assignments. Japanese women
are expected to quit their jobs when they get married or have
The new bills won't come into effect until April 1999. But
with little teeth, experts say, the laws won't dramatically
change the status of Japan's working women anytime soon.
Reporter Karuna Shinsho andReuters contributed to this report.
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