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Labor agency rules suicide by ex-Dentsu employee as death by overwork

Matsuri Takahashi
The government labor agency ruled that Matsuri Takahashi’s suicide was death by overwork

TOKYO (TR) – A government labor agency here ruled that a woman who used to work at Dentsu who committed suicide last Christmas was death by overwork, or karoshi, after records showed 130 hours of overtime in one month and just 10 hours of sleep a week, her bereaved family’s lawyer said on Friday.

The family’s lawyer said at a press conference that the Tokyo Labor Bureau found the death of Matsuri Takahashi, 24, who jumped from her dormitory on December 25, 2015, to be death by overwork after records showed she clocked 130 hours of overtime in October and 99 hours in November with constant late nights and work on what should have been her days off, the Sankei Shimbun reports (Oct. 7).

Takahashi was also in a state of depression, labor bureau officials said.

Takahashi’s seniors at Dentsu, an advertising and public relations firm, had also bullied her by saying such things as “your 20 hours of overtime is useless to this company,” Fuji News Network reported.

On what appears to be Takahashi’s Twitter account, she tweeted on October 31, 2015, that her department head said: “Putting on a sleepy face during meetings means lack of management.” “Your hair is a mess, and don’t come to work with your eyes all red.” “For you to be struggling with this amount of work means a total lack of capacity.”  Me: “Not even red eyes?””

“Death would be bliss”

Takahashi tweeted about days where she would only get two hours of sleep and that she “would rather die if this went on” and “death would be bliss.”

She also tweeted on December 16, 2015: “Thinking I want to die every day, each of them being this stressful. I wonder what lies ahead if I overcome them.”

“I’m a newcomer 23-year-old OL [Office lady] who has fallen into transmigration, where no matter how late I come home, I have to search for new cat videos for an hour every night or else I can’t sleep. My biggest worry is the residence tax starting next June, and what I look forward to every month is going to Tsukiji for sushi alone on pay day,” reads another tweet dated November 21, 2015, on Takahashi’s account.

Takahashi’s 53-year-old mother, Yukimi Takahashi, said at the press conference that “my daughter will never come back to me.”

“No job could be more important than life,” Yukimi said. “I strongly hope for the central government to instruct businesses as soon as possible.

“My daughter was telling her friends and colleagues she would get only 10 hours of sleep in a single week and the only thing she felt was just a desire to sleep…Why did she have to die?” TBS News quoted Yukimi as saying.

Takahashi graduated from the University of Tokyo in March 2015 and was hired at Dentsu in the following April, joining the PR firm’s advertising division.  She also started handling advertising work for securities companies in October the same year.

Dentsu released a statement saying the company is “taking the suicide of an employee seriously.”

“The company is not making comments at this time as the contents regarding the recognition that it was a work-related death have not been grasped,” Dentsu said.

The latest blow to Dentsu’s image comes after the company was found last month to have deliberately falsified invoices and overcharged clients resulting in inappropriate business practices worth some 230 million yen, according to the Sankei Shimbun.

Crossing the line

The central government drafted its first white paper on death by overwork, which was approved by the Cabinet on Friday.

Of 1,700 companies that were surveyed, 20 percent of them had regular full-time employees (seishainn) crossing the government’s so-called “karoshi line” of over 80 hours of overtime a month, and 11.9 percent were pushing its workers with overtime exceeding 100 hours.