Toyota Motor Corp. announced May 22 a small revolution in its relations with workers, agreeing to pay overtime for "voluntary" quality control activities, a tradition at the company. Such activities are not considered compulsory but critics argue that they put undue pressure on employees to put in excessively long hours.
The quality control discussion system, known as "kaizen," is considered one of the keys to Toyota's success and reputation for quality. Until now, only a small part of the time spent in these discussion groups was considered overtime, with the rest going unpaid. "Many times quality control circles meetings are held in the company's facilities," said Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco."We decided that if it is an official meeting in a company building, and if the meeting is officially recorded, then we will pay for all the time."
The new system will be introduced from June 1.
The quality control discussion groups were introduced in the 1960s and the system was taken up by other companies in and outside the auto sector.
"We looked at the importance of the activity and we realised it played a big role in improving our overall quality. We want to continue encouraging the participation," said the spokesman. Critics of the system say that employees have little choice but to work extra, unpaid hours -- particularly younger workers hoping for promotion.
In November 2007, a Japanese court ruled that a 30-year-old Toyota employee died of overwork after putting in more than 100 hours of overtime in one month. Death from overwork became such a common phenomenon as Japan built from the ashes of World War II into the world's second largest economy that it has its own word, "karoshi."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008