When Is A 45 Hour Week Actually A 29.5 Hour Week?

Feb 11, 2018


If you work for a dispatch company, you probably have something written in your contract that looks similar to what was written above; something that looks like “employee must be available to work between the hours of 8:00 and 17:00, Monday to Friday”.

Something that, if you counted up all the time, would equate to about 40 hours of work per week.

Like this one, for example:

In case you can’t read that on your device, here’s what it says:

 Employee shall work up to 29.5 hours per week between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday excluding a lunch time and resting time. Daily working hours shall be outlined on Employee’s schedule. 

That would seem to be nine hours a day, five days a week, for a total of forty-five hours(!).

However, they also mentioned “excluding a lunch time”, which we can say is about forty-five minutes.

Even so, even with the exception of five unpaid lunch hours, that still adds up to forty-one hours and fifteen-minutes a week.

How, then, does the company arrive at “29.5 hours per week” instead of “41.25 hours per week”?

Here’s another example from the contract of a different dispatch company:

In case you can’t see that example on your current device either, here’s what it says:

 2. Working hours:
The working days and working hours shall be as follows:
Monday through Friday    8:30am – 16:15pm   
(actual working time is is 29.5 hours per week) 

“8:30am – 16:15pm”, “Monday through Friday”, is 38 hours and 45 minutes per week.

Subtracting an hour for lunch per day, we arrive at 33 hours and 45 minutes per week.

That’s still well over the 30 hour mark, and certainly not the 29.5 hours that the company has written.

So, just what is going on here?

If you’ve been reading General Union articles for a while, you probably already know the answer to the previous question:

The company is evading shakai hoken enrollment.

If a company sets the “working hours” to 29.5, that puts them 30 minutes below the threshold of having the Japan Pension Service take action against them.

It has nothing to do with an employee not being “eligible” for shakai hoken enrollment “unless they work thirty or more hours per week”; it’s the company speeding down the proverbial highway but keeping their speed JUST LOW ENOUGH so that the police won’t chase them.

It’s certainly no coincidence that all of these companies just “happen” to have their working hours fall short of that thirty minute marker.

Here’s how they get away with it (click for full resolution):

You might be surprised to learn that they calculate hours based on a split-shift system rather than continuous A-to-B work.

That time between lessons? It’s not counted as “working time”.

The time before and after school? It’s not counted as “working time”.

In fact, many companies refer to these gaps as “free time” – time in which the employee is “off the clock” and free to do whatever they want to.

Of course, that’s absurdist nonsense.

Anyone who has ever stepped foot inside a school knows that the time between lessons is not “free time” in which you can do whatever you want.

The class might not end exactly when the bell rings; you might have to help tidy the classroom; you might interact with students; you might check work; you have to work from one classroom to the next classroom; you might have to gather materials for the next class; you might be asked a question by a teacher; there might be some lesson planning; maybe you’ll need to call your company.

All of this is work and, as we’ve often said, work is work as far as Japanese law is concerned.

However, your company would beg to differ.

In our previous graphic, the “How Long You Actually Work” section has the total working time per week down as being about 25 hours.

That total was based upon six 50 minute lessons per day, five days a week (6 x 00:50 x 5).

If the school was operating on a 45 minute lesson schedule, the total number of working hours per week would be about 22 hours and 30 minutes (6 x 00:45 x 5).

You might have noticed that neither “25” nor “22.5” is “29.5” hours per week.

By artificially deflating the number of working hours that a company claims its employees do, they also create a buffer in which they can add as many extra hours of work as needed up until they hit that mythical “29.5 Hour” limit.

A good example of this is experienced by anyone who works at a school in which they are “scheduled” to have lunch with a certain class.

According to Japanese labor law, being scheduled to eat lunch in a specific place counts as a direction from the company – and that counts as work.

However, that time won’t push the number of “29.5” any higher because the buffer is already in place.

For example, if an employee is working at a school that is working on a 50-minutes-per-lesson schedule, adding the extra time that comes from eating lunch still doesn’t take the employee over the “29.5 Hour” limit.

(00:50 x 6 = 25:00) + (00:45 x 5 = 3:45) = 28 hours and 45 minutes of work per week.

That’s assuming that the company would count the full 45 minutes or so, too.

If you’ve ever looked at your contract and wondered “how the heck can my company claim that I’m not working more than 30 hours per week when it’s clear that I’m working 40 hours per week?”, now you have your answer:

Split-shift schedules cheat you out of shakai hoken enrollment in order for a company to make a profit of about ¥40,000 per-month per-employee by not having to pay anything towards health insurance contributions.

This “frozen time” between lessons – time in which the clock stops and the company says it doesn’t have to pay you – is perhaps the root of all of the “lack of shakai hoken enrollment” evils that you may encounter while living and working in Japan.

The worst part is that many people have never even heard of such a system.

(Their companies certainly aren’t going to tell them.)

However, now that you know about it, it might be worth sitting down and adding up all the time you DO actually work under this split-shift system.

If you’re expected to be at school before 8:00am and/or you’re expected to leave school after 3:30pm, and you’re also scheduled to eat lunch with a specific class every day, there is a good chance that might have actually slipped over the arbitrary “29.5 hour” line and into flagrant “the company is risking having the Japan Pension Service come after them” territory.

Here’s a website that can help you to calculate how many hours you work per week: Time Sheet Calculator

You can go it alone and…

1) Sue the Pension Agency
First, you can apply to the Pension Agency for “enforced enrollment”.

The Agency will then examine your contract, and unfortunately, agree with the company: at 29.5 hours, you “do not qualify”.

When that happens, you will then need to apply for an official review of the situation.

You will then be denied enrollment again.

At that point, you have the option of suing the pension agency itself, and here is when you will actually win.

You will need to provide evidence of the work you do in breaks, before class, etc.

The judge will consider that when you walk to class, when you talk with students, and so on, you are actually working, and they will rule that you actually work more than 29.5 hours and are therefore eligible for enrollment.

Expect this to take two years from start to finish.

2) Visit A Labor Standards Office
If you have a substantial amount of evidence (e.g. if you’re working way over the “30 hour” mark), then you can, instead visit your local Labor Standards Office and ask for an investigation into the number of hours you work.

IF they find that you are indeed working more than 29.5 hours, they will order that the company pay you overtime.

It will also make you eligible for enrollment in shakai hoken as you are over the 30 hours “limit”, which means that you can apply for “enforced enrollment” again (and hope that the Pension Agency actually does its job this time).

Labor Standards Offices tend to be a mixed bag.

Don’t Go It Alone And…

3) Join a union and ask your union for advice and support.
In some cases we have been able to negotiate for individuals at companies and win enrollment. In other cases we have won enrollment through industrial action.

As mentioned elsewhere in this article, the General Union has been fighting against these split-shift/lost-time systems for a very long time, and much has been written about the subject.

Here are some other articles that you might be interested in reading:

Berlitz Teacher Wins Court Case Against Japan Pension Service (Details the “29.5 Hour” Rule And Our Victory In Suing The Government)

Dear General Union: Shakai Hoken Questions

Don’t Want Shakai Hoken? You May Want To Think Again… (The Case For Shakai Hoken Enrolment)

Union To Labour Standards Office: Stop Wage Theft At NOVA (Talks About Wage Theft Via Split-Shift Systems)

The Myth of Low Cost Dispatching [Op-Ed] (Explains Just How Much Money Companies Make By Evading Shakai Hoken Enrollment)

Will Years Of Pension Non-Enrollment Come Back To Haunt You? (How Employees Pay The Price For Their Company’s Sins)

Complete Victory In IES Court Case Over Shakai Hoken