Labor Report from Meiji Japan (20)

  Factory Legislation in Japan

TAKANO, Fusataro.

HONGO, TOKYO, JAPAN, October 20.----The subject of factory legislation has come before the public again in this country. Previous attempts by the Government towards enacting the law came to naught with the resignation of Count Okuma during last winter. With the re-entrance of the Count to the Ministry in last July, the work of framing the law was again taken up and completed some time ago. The proposed law is now placed before every Chamber of Commerce in this country for its consideration. It is also to be presented to the coming session of the Higher Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Board. The object of thus placing the bill before the various bodies is, it is said, to enable those bodies to make full investigation upon the subject, and propose amendment, if necessary, so that the bill will be presented to the coming session of Diet, which is to be opened on November 7, with no serious objections from those bodies.

The proposed law is composed of five chapters: (1) Scope of application of the law; (2) Supervision of factory construction; (3) Employment of children and adults; (4) Apprentices; and (5) Factory inspection.

Under the first head, it is stipulated that the proposed law will be applied to factories employing over fifty workmen and apprentices. This scope will, however, be extended to other factories whose nature of work is dangerous or detrimental to health, or where it is deemed necessary to protect and regulate workmen and apprentices.

The second contains provisions subjecting owners of factories to go through a rigid examination by authorities, and requiring safety provisions for dangerous machinery and for preservation of health and morality.

Under the third, several important features for protection of workmen and children are to be noted. They are:

  1. Prohibition of employment of children under ten years of age. For industries with special circumstances, application of this clause will be suspended or limited by public ordinance.
  2. Limitation of working hours to ten for children under fourteen years of age. However, this limitation will be modified with the approval of authorities when there exist special circumstances.
  3. Suspension of work on at least two days in each month and on three national holidays, and an hour of meal time during a working day. These requirements are also to be modified by consent of authorities when there exist special circumstances.
  4. Provision of educational facilities by employer with his own expense, for children under his employment whose ages are below fourteen years, and who have not completed common school education.
  5. Liability of employer in case of accident, fatal or otherwise, of employe in discharging his duty. Exceptions noted for cases resulting from intentional purpose of workman himself or his fellow-servant, and from calamity by nature.
  6. Issue of certificate by authorities or by masters' associations who previously applied to and granted the power to issue the certificate by the Minister of State for Agriculture and Commerce, when issue of such certificate is deemed necessary for regulation of workmen, requiring of workman to deposit his certificate with his employer while he remains under the employment, and of employer, to employ none but certificate holders.

Under the fourth head it is provided that the employer who maintains an apprentice system in his factory must get permission of authorities for rules and regulations governing the system in the factory. Necessary provisions to be made in such regulations are also indicated.

The fifth contains stipulations of the function of factory inspectors.
In a supplementary clause it is designated that the proposed law will, upon approval of both houses of Diet, be enforced on and after the first day of July, I899.

Considered from the view-point of working people there are many defections in the proposed law. In the first place, the scope of the law is not wide enough to include factories where there exist grievous evils which endanger health of working people. In the second place, those exempt clauses for prohibition and limitation of child labor and suspension of work jeopardize complete abolishment of the evils of child labor and long working hours. In the third place, while the proposed law requires of employer to provided for educational facilities, no punishment is provided for its violation, thus making the provision non-obligatory upon employer. Fourthly, the issue of certificate tends to hinder free movement of workmen while it gives to employer the power to compel his employee to remain under his service through unjust withholding of the certificate.

To remedy the above and other defections, the Rodo-Kumiai-Kisei-Kwai, representing 2,500 iron workers, printers, carpenters and other trades, has proposed the following amendments:

  1. That the application of the law should be extended to all factories.
  2. That the employment of children under ten years of age should be prohibited under any circumstances.
  3. That the working hours of children under fourteen years of age should be limited to eight hours per day and no extension should be granted under any circumstances.
  4. That the working hours of children above fourteen years of age and adult workmen should be limited to ten hours per day, except in time of extraordinary event.
  5. That on every Sunday and three national holidays work should be suspended and an hour per day for meal time should be given.
  6. That for children under fourteen years of age, and who have not completed common school education, employer should be held responsible to give education, and for violation be fined y.200 ($100).
  7. That for case of accident resulting from intentional purpose of fellow-servant, employer should be held responsible.
  8. That the certificate should be issued for apprentices only.

A petition embodying those amendments was presented to the Minister of State for Agriculture and Commerce, while a commitee is now busily engaged in interviewing members of the higher board to enlist their co-operation. Should these efforts fail to achieve their object, petitions will be presented to the houses of Diet when it meets. Furthermore, arrangement is now completed to hold a series of mass meetings to publicly proclaim the demand of working people for legislative protection.

It is hoped that this agitation by the Association will bear out some fruits and the proposed law will come out in a better form.

American Federationist, V, No.10(December,1898).

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