TOKYO - Workers in Japan may soon have some reprieve from excessive overtime work.
Under the existing 36 agreement, or saburoku kyotei, employers can virtually assign unlimited amounts of work to their workers.
But the government is now considering strictly capping the workers' monthly overtime hours.
It will discuss the content of the new regulations, including penalties and prohibiting companies from allowing employees to work more than a fixed maximum number of hours.
Long working hours have been blamed for the nation's falling birth rate. It is also believed that long working hours prevent men from participating in family activities.
Detailed strategies will be discussed by a new panel of relevant ministers and experts to be set up as early as this month.
The panel, to be chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will compile an action plan by March next year.
Under the current system, a notification by the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry stipulates that employees of a company that has made a 36 agreement with their labour side can work up to "45 hours a month" overtime.
However, using a special exemption, firms can allow employees to work longer than the hourly ceiling if there is "an extraordinary reason" and if both the labour and management sides agree.
Because the Labour Standards Law does not define an extraordinary case, most companies use this exemption to assign work amounts to employees that are over the limit.
"The notified (overtime work) ceiling has become useless," one senior ministry official said.
In Japan, the average employee (excluding part-time workers) does about 2,000 hours per year, which is considered high.
Deaths of people with brain or heart disease who had worked overtime for 100 hours a month, or for more than 80 hours a month for two to six months before developing the disease, are recognised by the Health Ministry as the result of overwork.