General Contractors’ Union Protests Against Request for Exemption from Overtime Regulations for Expo Pavilion Construction
In connection with the delayed construction of pavilions for Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan to be held in 2025, the Council of Japan construction industry employees’ unions (JCU), an industrial union organization affiliated with general contractors’ unions, issued a protest statement on August 4, stating that the organizer is “neglecting workers’ rights.” The statement was issued in opposition to a request from the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition, the organizer of the Expo, that the government refrain from applying overtime work limits to the construction industry.
Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan is scheduled to be held from April 13, 2025 to October 13, 2025, spanning approximately six months. Less than two years remain before the event commences.
Of the more than 150 countries and regions that have announced their participation in the Expo, approximately 50 countries plan to construct their own pavilions, but with the exception of South Korea, none has yet submitted even a basic plan, raising concerns about delays in the completion of pavilions.
Against this backdrop, it was revealed on July 27 that executives from the Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition, the governing body of the 2025 World Exposition, have requested that the government exempt Expo-related construction from the incoming overtime cap for the construction industry scheduled to be imposed in April 2024. This is because the Association has decided that it is essential to address the “2024 issue” of labour shortages amid delays in preparation for overseas pavilions and other facilities.
In accordance with revisions to the Labor Standards Act, from April 2024 construction workers will not be permitted to work overtime in excess of 45 hours per month, or 360 hours per year, in principle. In addition, even in cases where both labour and management agree to an extension due to extraordinary special circumstances, overtime and holiday work in excess of the separately established limits will not be permitted. The Expo Association has proposed that the upper limit be removed because limiting the hours worked by each worker may hinder construction, due to tight construction deadlines.
In fact, the construction industry has already been given special treatment. The revised Labour Standards Act, which established the upper limit, went into effect in 2019, but the construction, transportation, and logistics industries were given a five-year grace period until April 2024. Thus, asking that Expo pavilion construction be exempted from this upper limit represents a double request for special treatment.
In response, the Council of Japan construction industry employees’ unions (JCU), which consists of labour unions from 35 general contractors, issued a statement of protest on August 4, stating that any exemption from the overtime limit for the construction site of the 2025 World Exposition is an idea premised on the understanding that workers are to be overworked in the interest of strict adherence to this deadline, and is completely unacceptable.
The chairman of the JCU held a press conference in Tokyo on the same day. He criticized the request by the Expo Association to the government, saying that it neglects workers’ rights and shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the law. While Katsunobu Kato, Minister of Health, Labour, and Welfare, recognized that “mere busyness of work is not acceptable,” some in political and other circles were in favor of the exemption.
This case is a major problem on two counts. First, the Expo Association is a public interest corporation funded by the national government and local governments. It is unusual for a government-affiliated organization to directly request an exemption from the law, and it indicates a complete lack of understanding of the government’s policy of making work-style reform a priority issue.
The second point is that the organizer of Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan seems unaware of the contradiction between the theme of the Expo, “Designing Future Society for Our Lives,” and this call for exemption from regulations encouraging longer working hours that can lead to death by overwork.
On the other hand, the protest statement by the JCU was a timely action in fulfilling its role as a labour union. The mass media needs to seriously address such actions by labour unions to protect workers’ rights. The most important task of government, labour, and management is to protect workers, who tend to be victims of the supremacy of profit and the tyranny of delivery and construction deadlines. We hope that the mass media will raise public awareness of this issue.