Japan is considering making it compulsory for workers to take at least five days’ paid holiday a year, in a bid to lessen the toll on mental and physical health in a country famed for its long hours.
According to a survey by the Labour Ministry, workers typically use less than half their leave in a year. The survey found that in 2013, employees took only nine of their 18.5 days average entitlement. A separate poll revealed that one in every six workers took no paid holidays at all in 2013.
To help force a change to this, the government wants to boost the amount of paid leave used to 70 percent by 2020, and is planning to submit legislation mandating holidays in the current parliament session. In early discussions, employers’ groups proposed limiting the number of compulsory paid holidays to three days, while unions have called for eight.
Japan’s culture of long working hours and unpaid overtime is regularly criticised as a leading cause of mental and physical illness among employees. The term “karoshi”, which means “death by overwork”, entered the lexicon a few years ago amid a surge in the number of people dying because of stress-related problems, or taking their own lives.
According to a poll by the Japanese unit of Washington-based travel website, Expedia, workers in France enjoyed 37 paid holiday days in 2010 and used 93 percent of them. Spain had 32 paid holiday days and Denmark 29, with the average employee using up more than 90 percent.
As well as the health benefits, days off encourage workers to spend money on leisure activities, thereby boosting the economy.
Japan has a relatively high 15 statutory holidays annually. In recent years there has been a move to shift the days so that they fall adjacent to the weekend, making domestic holidays more of a possibility.
This year for the first time there will be a five-day weekend in May and in September, to which it is expected some employees will add a few days’ leave to make their vacations longer.