Aeon subsidiary Amity implicated in teacher's suicide

A labor standards office in Ishikawa Prefecture took an unusual move to determine that the suicide of an English-language instructor was caused by the extra work she was forced to do at home.

The woman had sent e-mails to colleagues and acquaintances lamenting the extra work. She also wept in phone calls to her father about her workload.


She later committed suicide by jumping from her condominium in Kanazawa in June 2011. She was 22 years old.

Her father applied to the Kanazawa Labor Standards Inspection Office for recognition that his daughter’s death was caused by her job.

However, since she had lived alone, the office could not readily determine how many hours she worked outside her workplace.

So officials at the office performed the same work she did at home to find the extent of her burden, sources said Nov. 5.

According to inspection office documents and lawyers who represented the woman’s father, the inspection office focused on 1,210 cards with letters and 1,175 cards with neat illustrations that she had created mainly at home during the two months since she joined Amity Corp., an operator of English conversation schools for children in various parts of Japan.

Members of the inspection office created similar cards. They took 29 seconds to nine minutes and 26 seconds to make each card.

The office estimated that the woman worked 82 hours a month at home. Including the overtime she put in at the school, her extra working time exceeded 111 hours a month.

The office in May concluded that she suffered from depression because of the long working hours, and recognized that her death was attributable to her job.

Other suicides in Japan have been recognized as a result of the extra working hours at home. But in those cases, those hours were calculated based on the testimonies of parents who were living with overworked employees, according to lawyers dealing in problems with “karoshi,” or death from overwork.

In spring 2011, the woman joined Amity and immediately began to work at its school in Kanazawa. She was good at English and became an instructor at the school because she wanted to teach the language to children.

She moved to the prefectural capital of Kanazawa while her parents remained in Osaka Prefecture.

About 10 days into her job, she was put in charge of lessons, a position that required her to come up with lesson plans and teaching materials.

Her workload increased.

One of the e-mails she sent to an acquaintance read: “It is painful that I have to do my job even after I came home.”

She also called her parents for advice. In one call, she told her father, “I am often scolded because my preparations for the job are too late.”

Worried about her daughter, the mother visited her condominium in Kanazawa.

When the teacher returned to her parents’ house in the Golden Week holidays, they helped her create teaching materials.

“As she was a new recruit, it was hard for her to even master the job flow,” her father said. “Despite that, she was apparently required to create a large amount of teaching materials. I should have made her quit the job even if doing so would have been against her will.”

The father’s estimate of her working hours at home was quite different from the estimate of Amity. That difference prompted the inspection office to create the cards to determine the correct number of hours.

“Our company did not recognize that her working conditions were serious due to the extra work she was doing at home. But we would like to offer our condolences again,” said an official of Amity, a group company of Okayama-based Aeon Holdings Corp. of Japan. “We are going to make further efforts to reduce the amount of work of our employees.”

With the law for prevention of death from overwork taking effect on Nov. 1, the woman’s father, 63, wants to raise awareness of the problems of extra work at home.

The government is now planning concrete measures under the law, which stipulates that it is the government’s responsibility to take steps to prevent death from overwork.

According to the labor ministry, a record high 1,409 people applied to labor inspection offices in fiscal 2013 for recognition that their mental diseases were caused by overtime work and other work-related problems.

Of them, 436 obtained recognition. Sixty-three of them killed themselves or attempted suicide. (In the suicide cases, bereaved family members made the applications.)

In fiscal 2008, the Tokyo metropolitan government conducted a survey on randomly chosen companies and their employees about whether extra work was conducted at home.

About 23.3 percent of the respondents said extra work was done at home.

Among education-related companies, the figure was as high as 35.9 percent.

Labor office emulates teacher's work at home, recognizes suicide as job-related
November 06, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, written by Teruaki Sakamoto

 

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