WWN#34 – Regulators say Miwa Sado died from “karoshi”


What’s Been Happening?

Karoshi, a Japanese term for “death by overwork” is an inevitable result of Japan’s gruelling work culture that is rarely discussed.

The culture where long hours and after-work social engagements are typical, dates back decades. Koji Morioka, a professor at Kansai University in Japan, has commented that a Japanese workplace always has overtime work. It’s almost a part of scheduled hours. At least one in five Japanese employees work 49 hours or more every week.

In December 2015, 24 year old Matsuri Takahashi committed suicide after having clocked 105 hours of overtime within a one month period. In the same year, Kiyotaka Seriwaza who was a maintenance worker killed himself after putting in 90 hour weeks.

What Now?

NHK, the public broadcaster that employed a reporter by the name of Miwa Sado has only just released more details surrounding her death in 2013. NHK said that it waited to make the information about her death public out of deference to her family. Sado was a Japanese journalist whose work schedule included 159 hours of overtime and just two days off in a single month. This inevitably led to a heart failure that killed her at the age of 31.

In a statement released by Labour regulators, they ruled that her death was another case of “karoshi”. “It can be inferred that she was in a state of accumulated fatigue and chronic sleep deprivation”.

What’s Next?

In light of the growing attention surrounding “karoshi”, the Japanese government has been taking steps to end the norm of long working hours so that there is an appropriate work life balance for its people. Earlier this year, legislation was passed introducing a “Premium Friday” which lets people leave the office a couple of hours early – but not every Friday, only the last Friday of each month. However, the scheme is not mandatory so it is unclear how many businesses will actually participate in this initiative.

Companies have been joining the effort to change the gruelling work culture. The ad agency Dentsu has begun shutting its lights off in its headquarters at 10pm and requires its workers to take at least five days off every six months. Japan Post Insurance, a life insurance company, shuts its lights off at 7:30pm.

There’s still a lot more that can be done and though new company policies or legislation can be passed quickly, effectively implementing and transforming work culture can take anywhere from a few months to a few years.

References:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/do-japanese-really-work-themselves-to-death-in-some-cases-yes/2016/07/31/77b48754-4f48-11e6-bf27-405106836f96_story.html?utm_term=.a24b22c586b8
http://fortune.com/2016/12/30/japan-karoshi-overwork-working-hours-friday/
https://www.mumbrella.asia/2017/10/japanese-work-culture-scrutiny-nhk-admits-death-employee-caused-overwork
http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/japanese-reporter-dies-after-working-159-hours-overtime-in-a-month/news-story/8975f3d0783a824e469db2b89eb68a7f
http://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace-relations/japanese-reporter-miwa-sado-worked-herself-to-death-regulators-say-20171005-gyvgiy.html
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WWN#33 – Ban Overturned: Women Can Finally Drive in Saudi Arabia!

Credits

What’s Been Happening?

Although Saudi women have consistently raised the issue by legal and social means, little progress has been made to allow them to drive due to the vague nature of Saudi law, which complicates the matter. Whilst Islamic law or Saudi traffic law does not prohibit women from driving, they are not issued licences and are detained if they attempt to drive.

Background:

  • In 1990, 47 women were arrested for driving in protest against the driving ban and some consequently lost their passports and jobs.
  • In 2011-2012, there was a social media campaign with Facebook and YouTube being used to encourage women to drive and inspire others to do the same, promoting change. Whilst the response was largely positive, women who were caught driving were still detained or arrested.
  • In late 2014, two Saudi women were detained for more than two months when they tried to cross the Saudi border with a licence obtained from the United Arab Emirates in an act of defiance.

What Now?

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has issued a royal decree allowing women to drive, in a historic decision that will make it the last country in the world to permit women behind the wheel. The decree stated that the majority of Muslim scholars on the country’s highest clerical council agreed that Islam allows women the right to drive. From June 2018, women will be able to obtain driver licences. Prince Khalid bin Salman has further stated that women will be allowed to obtain driver’s licences without having to ask for permission from their male guardian. This move is seen as part of the government’s “Vision 2030” plan for social and economic reform as the kingdom prepares for a post-oil era.

A newly-formed committee will first develop a plan on how to implement the order in accordance with religious and regulatory standards, presenting its recommendations in 30 days.

What’s Next?

The announcement is a move in the right direction but activists say that there is more to be done. Other violations of women’s rights persist due to the country’s strict laws and guardianship policies. A male guardian’s consent is required for any female to perform even the most mundane activities. Some examples are: getting a passport, travelling abroad, opening a bank account, getting a job and dressing how they want – all of which require guardian consent.

For Saudi women, gaining the right to drive is not the end of the struggle. As Muna AbuSulayman, a Saudi television presenter, has said: “It didn’t solve all the issues, but it made them one less.”

References:
http://abcnews.go.com/International/women-saudi-arabia-drive-things/story?id=50130702
http://www.news.com.au/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-to-allow-women-to-drive/news-story/c9fe37b5d87e4674011ed72d500014d2
http://www.bbc.com/news/business-41427772

WWN#32 – Kenya’s August Election Ruled Invalid! Kenyatta vs. Odinga

What’s been happening?

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected in August amid accusations of election fraud by the opposition. The opposition leader Raila Odinga has claimed the results were rigged, echoing claims made against Kenyatta in the 2013 elections. In 2013, Kenyatta won with a wafer-thin margin of 50.03 percent, a result that Odinga disputed unsuccessfully but peacefully in court.

Official results this time around show that Kenyatta won by a comfortable margin of 1.4 million votes (54.27%). However, Odinga and his opposition party immediately rejected the results and appealed to the Supreme Court for a new election.

What Now?

Kenya’s Supreme Court has declared Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in the presidential election last month invalid. The six-judge bench ruled 4-2 in favour of a petition filed by Odinga who had claimed the electronic voting results were hacked and manipulated in favour of the incumbent. A new vote is to be held on October 17 after the Court found there were “irregularities and illegalities” in the election.

Hours after the Supreme Court ruling, President Kenyatta addressed the nation, saying that he respects the court’s decision but personally disagreed with the decision. However, he has called for peace and respect for the rule of law. “Amani, Amani, Amani! (Peace, peace, peace!)” – Kenyatta

Odinga and his party welcomed the decision but said that they preferred the new election to take place later on October 24 or 31 in order to provide the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) with enough time to fix its problems.

What’s Next?

More will be revealed when the full judgment of the court is released within 21 days of the ruling. In the meantime, a weakening currency and plunging stock market indicate that the extended political uncertainty will inevitably have a negative impact on the country’s economy.

Organising another election will also be costly. The original vote cost around $500 million and involved more than 300,000 temporary workers. Now the IEBC has to repeat it and under heavier pressure to prove that results are reliable and accurate.

Another election is likely to mean more violence on the horizon. After a flawed presidential election in 2007, more than 1,000 people died and half a million people were displaced in the post-election violence and street protests. If Odinga loses this election as well, it is possible that he may challenge the results again or worse still, incite his supporters to take action through violent means.

References
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/01/kenyan-supreme-court-annuls-uhuru-kenyatta-election-victory
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/31/kenyan-election-official-christopher-msando-dead-before-national-vote
https://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFKCN1BJ1F5-OZATP
http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/leaders/kenya-election-2017-uhuru-kenyatta-wins-amid-protests/news-story/19ef6bbb5ed664c80e5f33ca20b60125
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-41129919

WWN#31 – An Ongoing Conflict in India: Aadhaar Cards & Privacy

Aadhaar Card ExampleSource

What’s Been Happening?

In 2009, the Indian government introduced identity cards known as an Aadhaar card and rolled out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. An Aadhaar is a 12 digit unique-identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric data such as finger prints and eye scans and demographics. It is the world’s largest biometric ID system with over 1.1 billion enrolled members as of 15 August 2017. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is the regulatory body that oversees the Adhaar project and does not charge any money for any stage of the registration.

In 2015, a Supreme Court order had ruled that the registration for Adhaar was a purely optional program and that it could not become mandatory. In 2016 however, parliament passed the Aadhaar Act which allowed the government to require identification for government services.

Citizens have been notified that they will need to prove their identity using this card to be eligible to use certain services such as:

  • Filing income tax returns and having a permanent account number (PAN). This is similar to Australia’s requirement of a unique tax file number (TFN) for every individual that is lodging their tax return.
  • Subsidised fuel services
  • Hassle-free passport services
  • Concessional rail ticket booking
  • Hassle-free pension services

As the card was rolled out, concerns arose about privacy and data security, with the former becoming a hot topic as the government argued that privacy isn’t protected by India’s constitution in its attempt to make the national identity cards mandatory. The matter was taken to the Supreme court of India in 2012.

What Now?

A nine-member bench of India’s Supreme Court announced that individual privacy is a fundamental right, a verdict that will impact the way companies handle personal data and the roll out of the Adhaar card.

The court ordered that two earlier rulings by large benches that said privacy was not fundamental in 1954 and 1962 be overruled and declared privacy as “an intrinsic part of the right to life and liberty” and “part of the freedom guaranteed” by the constitution.  Those opposed to the growing demand for Aadhaar data cheered the ruling.

India’s Law Minister Ravi Prasad stated that the ruling was an affirmation of the government’s stance that privacy is a fundamental right but subject to reasonable restrictions. He said that it was not a setback to the government’s plans for Aadhaar and notes that the court is separately looking into the legality of the Aadhaar Act.

What’s Next?

The latest ruling means that the government may not have as much leeway to make signing up for the ID program mandatory. While the validity of the Aadhaar Act is still being challenged, this latest verdict will empower those already challenging the biometric platform by petitioning for a stay on the various ways in which Aadhaar is currently being used and where the government is trying to compel the use of Aadhaar (e.g. opening bank accounts with Aadhaar).

Apart from Aadhaar, the government’s power to collect and handle data will consequently be diluted and subject to change. Although a battle has been won, the war is far from over.

References:
http://aadhaarcarduid.org/aadhaar-frequently-asked-questions/  
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/mar/21/no-id-no-benefits-thousands-could-lose-lifeline-india-biometric-scheme-aadhaar-card
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-court-privacy-idUSKCN1B40CE

WWN#30 – Chevron admits defeat in Landmark Tax Case

What’s Been Happening? A Multinational Oil Giant Makes A Loan to Itself

In June 2003, a $2.5 billion credit facility was agreed between Chevron Australia and a U.S. subsidiary called Chevron Funding Corporation. Under the terms of the loan, CFC borrowed at 1.2 percent in the U.S. but on-lent the money at 9 percent which led to $1.1 billion in profits for CFC between 2004 and 2008. The profits were not taxed in either Australia or United States.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) issued amended assessments for each of the 2004 to 2008 tax years which amounted to an extra A$340 million tax bill owed but Chevron objected to the ATO’s assessment. The assessments were made on the basis that the interest paid by the Australian company was greater than it would have been if it was a dealing made between two independent parties that had no relationship to each other. In September 2014, a trial began and was subsequently ruled in favour of the ATO by the Federal Court in October 2015.

Chevron appealed the Federal Court decision in April this year but lost the appeal with the full bench of the Federal Court reaffirming the ATO’s position. The appeal was dismissed although Chevron continued to pursue to the matter to the next level by appealing to the High Court.

What Now? Undisclosed settlement

Chevron has withdrawn its appeal to Australia’s High Court following an agreement reached with the Australian Taxation Office on the loan transfer pricing dispute. Both parties declined to comment on the size of the settlement. As a settlement has been reached for these tax years, it is likely that terms have been agreed for future years as well which would push the total tax paid by Chevron to over $1 billion. In fact, the ATO had already audited returns from 2008 to 2013 over the same issues with a total of $1.062 billion in dispute.

The ATO’s initial estimates are that the Chevron decision will bring in more than $10 billion dolalrs of additional revenue over the next 10 years in relation to transfer pricing of related party financing.

What’s Next? Case Set As A Precedent, More targets for the ATO

The decision has direct implications for a number of cases the ATO is currently pursuing in relation to related party loans as well as indirect implications for other transfer pricing cases. ATO figures for 2014-15 reveal that Australian arms of multinationals had $420 billion in related party borrowings, meaning billions of dollars in interest payments could be subject to challenge and increasing scrutiny by the ATO. The receipt of funds from this case is a much needed windfall for the Australian government who holds over $700 billion in debt.

KPMG tax partner Grant Wardell-Johnson further commented that the case has meant that companies could no longer say that the subsidiary is completely independent of its parent. A transaction between related parties needs to be carefully considered to ensure that the transaction is dealt at arm’s length.

References:
http://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/multibillion-dollar-tax-windfall-after-chevron-abandons-appeal-20170818-gxz718.html
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/chevron-drops-high-court-tax-appeal-with-win-to-yield-10bn-in-revenue/news-story/eccadf9ff4ad7589d548eb9ed7dc90c0
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-chevron-taxavoidance-idUSKCN1AY0DV
http://www.afr.com/news/chevron-loses-australias-biggest-tax-case-20170420-gvp8e1

 

 

WWN#29 – Sydney’s Tent City is coming to an end

What’s Been Happening?

In June, police and council workers dismantled a homeless camp in Martin Place, Sydney CBD which houses about 50 people in tents. The so-called “tent city” has been a subject of debate between the State Government and Sydney Council for months as both sides have accused the other of shunting responsibility over tent city (State vs. Local).

Since then, many residents have returned with some of them having been on the streets for a few months while for others it has been decades. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian claims that the homeless people have been offered accommodation and are simply refusing to help themselves. The residents have countered that the offered accommodation is “not safe, nor affordable, nor acceptable”. Some of them say that the accommodation is only offered on a temporary basis as well. So far negotiations between the City of Sydney and the homeless tent dwellers to vacate the Martin Place campsite have failed.

What Now?

A bill that was introduced by the government on Tuesday was passed in the upper house without amendments on Wednesday evening. The bill authorises police to remove people from crown land if the land minister deems there to be a public safety issue. The legislation only affects crown land within City of Sydney and does not extend to other councils. It effectively resolves the long-running stoush between the government and the city albeit by employment of force.

Following the change in legislation, the residents of the controversial tent city in Martin Place prepared to leave the site today. The NSW Police are monitoring the exodus which has remained peaceful although some residents admitted that they are “traumatised by what’s going on, and had no idea of where they would go”.

What’s Next?

Although the bill is seen as progress towards a solution, it is certainly not the end solution with more steps to come. The lack of affordable housing in the city is the underlying issue here and forcing the tent city dwellers to leave Martin Place will only result in them relocating to another public place.

It is also likely that some residents will remain opposed to leaving a place that has been known to them as a safe haven for many months or years. Some residents will have to be forcibly evicted by police, a move which the Premier said she was reluctant to do.

Lanz Priestly, dubbed the “mayor of tent city”, has said that they are considering all options, including the lodgement of a last minute legal appeal to allow the residents to stay. Having consulted three different groups of lawyers, the law introduced to NSW Parliament was reviewed as weak and therefore they might decide to challenge the law.

References:
http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/they-should-be-gone-police-government-plan-to-dismantle-martin-place-camp-20170803-gxow4l.html
http://www.smh.com.au/comment/governments-need-to-listen-to-the-homeless-residents-of-martin-place-20170801-gxniq4.html
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/police-given-power-to-tear-down-sydneys-tent-city/news-story/298df81eb9daff1d228745946535a9a8
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/martin-place-tent-city-mayor-may-lodge-lastminute-legal-appeal-to-allow-homeless-to-stay/news-story/0547cfe4e39068627e20efaafd7927e6

WWN28# – Is this justice? Michelle Carter receives verdict in texting suicide case

What’s Been Happening? Conrad and Michelle

In June 2014, 18 year old Conrad Roy III started sharing suicidal thoughts with Michelle Carter over text messages. Carter initially urges Roy to seek medical help and discourages him from harming himself. Later on, she changes tone and successfully convinces Roy to commit suicide. Roy was found dead near a compression pump that had filled a pick-up truck with carbon monoxide. His death was initially deemed a suicide but police have subsequently charged Carter with involuntary manslaughter after investigating text messages that were sent between Carter and Roy. In one exchange, Carter had told him to stay in the vehicle from 30 miles away after Roy exited the vehicle because the carbon monoxide was “working and he got scared”.

On June 16 2017, Massachusetts judge Lawrence Moniz found Carter to be guilty of Roy’s death and announced that she could face up to 20 years of prison time.

What Now?

Moniz has sentenced Michelle Carter to a 2.5 year term but has said that only 15 months is mandatory. He also sentenced her to five years of probation. If she violates the terms of her five year probation, she will have to serve her full sentence in jail.

Terms of Five Year Probation

  • No contact with Roy’s family and classmates who acted as witnesses for the prosecution
  • Cannot leave the state of Massachusetts
  • Must submit a DNA sample
  • Must have a mental health evaluation
  • Banned from using social media

Carter’s lawyer, Joseph Cataldo successfully petitioned to have her sentence stayed which means that she will not go to jail yet until all of her state appeals are exhausted and denied. Cataldo has asked the judge to spare his client from going to prison at all and require her to receive mental counselling while in probation instead.

Following the sentencing, the prosecutor Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn said that he was disappointed the judge chose to stay the sentence. He had recommended a sentence of 7 to 12 years for Carter who he said has not shown remorse or accepted responsibility for her actions.

What’s Next?

It was certainly unexpected. A 2.5 years sentence is a much shorter sentence than the potential 20. In addition, Carter is appealing the sentence so it could result in only probation time and no time in jail at all. Regarding the sentencing, it is possible that the judge was trying to rehabilitate and not punish and relied on the fact that she was aged 17 when the crime was committed and tried a juvenile court.

The case has drawn a lot of attention to the issue of whether “words encouraging suicide” is a criminal act. In the U.S, criminal law typically punishes physical action and this case could set a new legal precedent in which words and not just actions are deemed to cause death. At this stage, it is unlikely to be used as precedent but the verdict indicates a shift in legal landscape where it may ultimately lead to changes in the way we communicate with others (some say in a more careful manner and with limited freedom).

Postponing the case is also not in the best interests of anyone involved. It offers no peace to Roy’s family and shows a refusal by Carter and her parents to accept responsibility for her actions. The appeal process is likely to drag on for a while and there is no doubt that Carter’s lawyer will surely try to stretch out the process. While some may say that Michelle needs our sympathy and help, I say that she needs to take ownership and accept the consequences of her actions as well.

References:
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3741960/michelle-carter-guilty-encouraging-conrad-roy-boyfriend-suicide/
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-carter-was-wrongfully-convicted-texting-suicide-case-amanda-knox-n789541
http://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/08/us/text-message-suicide-michelle-carter-conrad-roy/index.html
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-carter-convicted-texting-suicide-case-sentenced-15-months-jail-n789276
https://qz.com/1009681/a-new-legal-precedent-means-americans-can-go-to-jail-for-what-they-say/