Tokyo Olympic stadium worker “killed by overwork”, family claims

The parents of a young worker on Tokyo’s Olympic stadium who killed himself have asked the government to recognise the suicide as "karoshi" – the Japanese term for death by overwork – after he logged more than 200 hours of overtime in the month before he disappeared.

In a petition filed with a Tokyo labour standards inspection office, the parents of the 23-year-old claim he killed himself after developing depression from exhaustion.

The man had been part of the ground-improvement crew at the stadium site since December but went missing on 2 March. A month later he was found dead in Nagano Prefecture.

According to Japan Times he left a note saying: "I couldn’t find any result other than this (suicide) as my physical and mental conditions have reached their limits."

Yesterday the family’s lawyer, Hiroshi Kawahito, said records at the stadium site show the man worked just under 212 hours of overtime in the month before he went missing.

The lawyer said the man had to work constantly until late at night and sometimes all night.

"We earnestly wish to see no more people lose their lives from exhaustion, like our son," the parents said in a statement read by their lawyer.

We cannot tolerate any fatalities at construction sites for the Olympics while everyone is working for their success. We will try to reduce working hours– Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Japanese Health, labour and welfare Minister

Japan recognises suicide as a result of work-related mental stress as karoshi, as well as cardiovascular illness linked to overwork, according to Reuters.

The pressure is high to complete Tokyo’s new National Stadium, the centrepiece of the 2020 Summer Olympics, after a delay of nearly a year caused by the sudden scrapping of architect Zaha Hadid’s original design in 2015.

Construction on the stadium, to a new design put forward by Kengo Kuma only began in December 2016.

Reuters reports that the stadium manager, the Japan Sport Council and Taisei Corp, which leads the joint venture building it, said they were aware of the death.

"We have in the past called on the Taisei-led joint venture and its sub-contractors to scrupulously obey relevant laws, and will renew our calls," the council said in a statement, reported Reuters.

A Taisei spokesman said the man was employed by a subcontractor that bore responsibility for work conditions.

"We as the consortium leader are calling on our subcontractors to comply with the law," he added.

The subcontractor admitted to letting the man work beyond the limits set under a labour-management agreement based on Japan’s labour standards law, reports Japan Times.

The accord allows the company to have employees work up to 45 hours overtime a month in principle and up to 80 hours in special cases.

Japan’s Health, labour and welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki commented on the issue, saying, "We cannot tolerate any fatalities at construction sites for the Olympics while everyone is working for their success. We will try to reduce working hours."

Image: Kengo Kuma’s design for the New National Stadium replaced Zaha Hadid’s original (Japan Sport Council/Kyodo)

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