Japan enacted a law Wednesday to introduce flexible working hours for public school teachers and limit their monthly overtime to 45 hours, after their tendency to overwork drew public attention.
The revised law on special measures on teachers' salaries will give local governments the option to have teachers work longer hours at busy times of the academic year and take more days off in the summer when students go on vacation, as long as they stick to the monthly overtime cap.
Japan is notorious for its long working hours and teachers are no exception. The average working hours of junior high school teachers in the country stood at 56 hours per week in 2018, the longest among 48 nations and regions surveyed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Under the education ministry's scenario, municipalities introducing the flexible system will increase their teachers' work hours by three hours a week in April, typically a busy period at the start of the new academic year, and add five more days off to August.
The system is expected to be introduced at some municipalities from April 2021.
During deliberations at parliament, education minister Koichi Hagiuda said the system does not reduce the workload itself, but would make teaching jobs more attractive to those aspiring to become teachers.
Opposition parties were against the move, saying it would make teachers even busier in the peak workload season and could trigger deaths from overwork.
They called for hiring more teachers instead, claiming school staff often cannot take a long summer break as they need to participate in training or oversee students in extracurricular activities.
The new law is accompanied by a resolution that calls for local education boards to thoroughly check whether the schools introducing the system are working toward reducing overall workload as well as to create a center to accept complaints from teachers at schools that make them do overtime beyond the cap.