Friday, February 6, 2009

Waistline Law and the Monitoring of Society

Last June, the New York Times published an article discussing Japan’s latest efforts to make public health an issue that was backed by law. Loosely referred to as the waistline law, Japanese companies and cities are required to take waist measurements of people within specific parameters in order to combat obesity in the country.

While many Americans would ultimately fail the strict guidelines for waistline measurements established by the law in question, many Japanese are simply on the cusp of what is referred to in Japan as “metabo,” a word that has become slang for obese, without all of the harsh connotations.

Metabo actually refers to metabolic syndrome, a condition which is said to contribute to diabetes and other vascular complications. Obesity, especially abdominal obesity, along with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high glucose levels are all named as factors in metabolic syndrome.

In specified cities, 65% of individuals between the ages of 40-74 on public health insurance had to meet very specific waistline measurements—or face the challenge of reducing inches in order to comply with the new law. The waistline measurement requirements for men were 33.5 inches or less and 35.4 inches or less for women.

While this effort is a proactive step in the right direction toward minimizing health care costs related to metabolic syndrome, many people see the necessity to comply with this law as another way to privatize health care costs. Individuals will have to work on maintaining their frames if they don’t want to be placed on a government-regulated diet.

Detractors view this as an unnecessary precaution and a serious invasion of privacy. Notices were distributed to all citizens in various locales who matched the criteria put forth by the government. Those who didn’t appear were to be summoned a second time.

In all, the effort being put forth by the Japanese government is one that is trying to bring public health concerns to the forefront of the national psyche. However, many believe that harsher laws and taxes could be levied against tobacco, which is still used by a large number of the population, despite its status as an advanced nation. After all, tobacco use also contributes to being metabo.

For now, enforcement will run slowly, with percentages of people meeting the guidelines increasing to 25% by 2015. This may be plenty of time to get things back into shape, but for many people in Japan, it seems like a lot of time, effort, and resources for a marginal priority.

*This post was contributed by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of Careers in criminal justice. She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12 at gmail dot com

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"Karoshi" – death from overworking

"A Japanese company has been ordered to pay more than £780,000 in damages to the relatives of an overworked employee who committed suicide.

"The agricultural firm made the payment after the 33-year-old worker killed himself four years ago after becoming depressed due to his growing workload.

"A judge at Kushiro District Court on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido ruled the co-operative failed to fulfil its duty to ensure workplace safety and prevent his death.

"Ordering the company to pay £785,500 (100 million yen) in damages to the worker's relatives, Judge Tadahiro Okayama told the court: "The course of suicide arises from his work."

"Mr Okayama added that the co-operative "could have prevented [the suicide] if it had taken appropriate measures such as restricting his working hours and recommending him to visit a psychiatrist", according to Kyodo news agency.

"While thousands of workers are estimated to die every year from overworking and a growing number of relatives are seeking compensation, the amount of damages awarded in the latest Hokkaido case was unusually high.

"Deaths related to workplace stresses are becoming an increasingly serious phenomenon in modern day Japan, due to a burgeoning office culture famous for its long hours, strict codes and hierarchical structures.

"Testimony to the growing problem of overworking is the existence of the word "karoshi" – meaning death from overworking – alongside a national karoshi hotline and a law specifically created to compensate relatives of karoshi victims.

"As many as 2,200 workers committed suicide in Japan due to work conditions, according to police figures, while a further 10,000 are estimated to have suffered work-related heart attacks or strokes during the same year, according to Rengo, a major labour union federation.

"The current climate of economic decline has prompted some analysts to predict that incidents of death from overworking will steadily increase over the coming year due to soaring workplace stresses.

"Martin Schulz, a senior economist at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo, told Bloomberg, "Karoshi will likely pick up again.""

By Danielle Demetriou (Telegraph, 2/3/2009), Link to article (last visited 2/5/2009)

"Civil service reform

"Reforming the nation's civil service system has two purposes.

"One is to give greater mobility to the bureaucracy by banishing the territorial mentality of bureaucrats who are said to think for their ministries or agencies rather than for the nation.

"Another is to end the amakudari system that breeds corruption, including government-led bid-rigging and other forms of government-industry collusion.

"The Taro Aso administration on Tuesday finalized its reform timetable, which shows what reforms are to be implemented and how. The schedule covers the period from 2009 through 2012.

"The centerpiece of the proposed reforms is the creation of a new "Cabinet personnel and administrative management bureau," which would integrate the management of senior personnel of all ministries and agencies. Another highlight is a review of the current early retirement system.

"The government initially intended to create this new Cabinet bureau during fiscal 2009, but postponed it until after April 2010 because preparations were thrown off schedule by the abrupt resignation of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda last autumn.

"However, with a Lower House election due before too long, the Aso administration needed to at least avoid being blamed for falling back on reform. That was why the timetable was announced Tuesday.

"But Masahito Tani, president of the National Personnel Authority, is vehemently opposed to the establishment of the new Cabinet bureau.

"Tani pointed out that transferring some of the NPA's functions to the new bureau, such as deciding the salary rankings of civil servants, could violate the Constitution.

"He argues that the government has entrusted the NPA, an independent entity, with these and other powers as basic labor rights of such government employees are restricted. Akira Amari, state minister for administrative reform, disagreed. "The functions to be transferred have nothing to do with civil servants' basic labor rights," he countered.

"Some members of the ruling coalition criticized Tani for "just trying to defend the NPA's turf."

"According to the timetable, a government study panel this year will decide how far to ease the restrictions on basic labor rights. This is a matter that concerns civil servants' basic rights. We believe any discussion of the transfer of the NPA's functions to the new Cabinet bureau should await the government panel's ruling.

"As for amakudari, the timetable shows that laws will be revised enabling civil servants to work until their mandatory retirement age. Various rules for delayed mandatory retirement and re-employment will be prepared in stages by fiscal 2012.

"To eliminate amakudari, the personnel system must be radically overhauled. There is no point in simply talking about the matter or making promises if the system of helping bureaucrats land cushy post-retirement jobs remains effectively unchanged. On the other hand, care must be taken to keep civil service an attractive profession so that talented individuals will still want to work for the government.

"Aso on Tuesday in the Diet addressed the issue of government ministries and agencies mediating amakudari and watari (post-retirement job hopping) for their retired officials. "I would like to create a government ordinance to end such mediations during this year," Aso said.

"This was a surprise. Until quite recently, Aso was adamant about not scrapping an existing government ordinance that permits such mediations in exceptional cases.

"Aso should, of course, fix what is not right. However, the announcement of the timetable at this time, coupled with his unexpected policy about-face, somehow smacks of a popularity-seeking stunt at the expense of civil servants.

"Regardless of which political party holds power, the purpose of any civil service system reform should be to create an efficient bureaucracy that carries out the party's will. The reform needs to be bold, but nothing can be gained by proceeding in haste and demoralizing the bureaucracy itself.

"Aso should include opposition parties in the process and design a good, solid plan."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 2/5/2009), Link to article (last visited 2/5/2009)