THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
September 29, 2020 at 19:06 JST
Thirty-two of Japan's 47 prefectural governments treat teleworking as “business trips” with five of them paying a related allowance to their employees working remotely, according to an Asahi Shimbun survey.
The survey of the local governments showed they are struggling to find the best way to deal with the new work style, which has rapidly taken root to prevent a spread of novel coronavirus infections.
The Chiba prefectural government pays a flat sum of 300 yen ($2.84) a day to its employees who are teleworking to cover their “miscellaneous travel expenses.” Their immediate managers started directing them to work from home after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country.
As of the end of August, the prefectural government had provided some 10 million yen that covers roughly 35,500 days of teleworking to about 5,800 employees.
Chiba prefectural government employees who work remotely are considered to be on business trips since the prefectural ordinance on its employees’ office regulations has clauses of “reporting to work,” “traveling on business” and “taking leaves,” but “working from home” is not included.
In the case of actual business trips, the prefectural government pays its workers out-of-pocket travel expenses in addition to the 300 yen. If they stay overnight during such trips, they are provided with a fixed 13,100 yen.
“The allowance is necessary to cover employees’ communication expenses working on computers at home and phone bills charged for calling the office at the start and end of the workday,” a Chiba prefectural government official said of the 300 yen.
The Shimane, Okayama and Yamaguchi prefectural governments also provide 200 to 300 yen a day to their teleworking employees to cover their communication costs for the same reason if their immediate managers approve the workers’ applications for the allowance.
The Asahi Shimbun survey found 15 of the 47 prefectural governments treat working remotely as "teleworking" or the same as “reporting to work.” The other 32 classify it as business trips.
The Chiba, Aichi, Shimane, Okayama and Yamaguchi prefectural governments even pay a business trip-related allowance to their employees who are working remotely.
“Some may think employers should shoulder expenses their workers pay during work, but we have our employees bear their own communication costs,” said an official of the Kyoto prefectural government.
To ease the burden on teleworking employees, however, employees who are working at the office ring them back when receiving calls from them and the prefectural government lends them laptops, the official said.
The Ibaraki prefectural government, which also does not pay teleworkers a business trip-related allowance, has not provided any allowances when its employees travel on business within the prefecture by official car since before the pandemic.
“We applied the same rule to teleworking,” an Ibaraki government official said.
SAITAMA INTRODUCES PHONE CALL APP
Other prefectural governments have changed how to pay such an allowance.
The Saitama prefectural government had provided 200 yen a day to employees working remotely to cover their miscellaneous travel expenses, including phone bills, until the end of May. The allowance paid between March and May totaled about 4.96 million yen.
But the prefectural government stopped providing it in June after introducing a new system where the government is charged for its workers' phone calls made via an app they install on their personal mobile phones.
The Aichi prefectural government has also paid teleworking employees 200 yen a day to cover their miscellaneous travel expenses.
But Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura on Sept. 23 said, “The allowance doesn't quite make sense. We’ll stop providing it when we find the best time to do so.”
The prefectural government paid about 18 million yen as the allowance between early April and late May alone.
Forty-four prefectural governments had adopted teleworking as of March, according to the internal affairs ministry. As part of work style reform, teleworking was introduced on a trial basis several years ago, targeting workers who were raising children or caring for family members.
The number of people now working remotely has ballooned amid the pandemic, illuminating the many challenges tied to the work style, such as how to prepare communication devices and whether to provide allowances to teleworkers.
The Hiroshima prefectural government said it is conducting a survey of its employees this month on their opinions of the pros and cons of teleworking which they realized while working from home.
“Based on the survey results, we’ll further discuss (issues surrounding teleworking) in detail,” a Hiroshima prefectural official said.
BUISNESS TRIP ALLOWANCE A 'STOPGAP' MEASURE
Jun Nakahara, a professor of human resource development at Rikkyo University, pointed out that prefectural governments are using a several-hundred-yen business trip-related allowance as a stopgap measure to deal with teleworking amid a lack of a system for the new work style.
“The governments need to start with understanding the costs that their employees are bearing while working from home,” he said. “They then should stop treating the work style like a business trip and create a proper system that supports teleworkers.”
Nakahara also said that the pandemic has provided an opportunity for people to realize the importance of work styles and working environments as many workers have experienced remote working and teleworking.
“Workplaces that offer various work styles attract talented people,” he said. “The prefectural governments should consider creating a support system as an investment to survive the pandemic.”
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