Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Those Wage Earners Left Behind

September 4th, 2009 · 1 Comment

As you’re stuffing your face with sweet sausages and Budwesier Chelada this holiday weekend, we hope you’ll pause for a brief moment to remember those who really could have used a Labor Day respite: victims of karōshi, who remain far more numerous than they should be.

Karōshi translates from the Japanese as “death from overwork,” and it’s been a serious problem in the world’s second biggest economy for decades now. In fact, the Japanese government started keeping karōshi stats since 1987, in an effort to understand how best to prevent such fatalities. But despite media efforts to highlight numerous egregious cases of karōshi, there has actually been a noticeable uptick in cases over the past few years, perhaps due to worsening economic conditions in Japan. When prices are rising, wages are stagnant, and new jobs rare, it’s terribly hard to deny your boss’s request for an extra 20 hours of unpaid overtime per week.

What struck us most about the latest statistics is that they’re gleaned solely from data related to workman’s compensation cases—that is, karōshi is only karōshi if the government rules that a fiscal penalty must be paid. But given that these payouts have not deterred instances of death by overwork, doesn’t that indicate that employers are getting off way too easily? Have they calculated that an occasional worker lost to karōshi is worth it, given the extra productivity they’re able to squeeze out of their other miserable (though alive) employees?

Also, note this ominous line at the top of the latest stats:

JICOSH was closed in 2008.

In other words, our only reliable source for karōshi data has gone bye-bye. That’s certainly one way to minimize bad news about your country’s labor force.

Sorry, didn’t mean to bum you out too much so close to the holiday. Please enjoy this karōshi-themed Flash game with out joyous compliments.

(Image via the great Gizmodo)


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