TGIF? Japan wants workers to leave early once a month

The "Premium Fridays" campaign, set to launch on Feb 24, aims to encourage workers to leave work by 3pm on the last Friday of every month so that they can shop, dine out and generally spend more. The drive is inspired by consumer events such as Black
The "Premium Fridays" campaign, set to launch on Feb 24, aims to encourage workers to leave work by 3pm on the last Friday of every month so that they can shop, dine out and generally spend more. The drive is inspired by consumer events such as Black Friday in the United States.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Policymakers and business leaders are encouraging workers to leave by 3pm on the last Friday of each month so that they can shop, dine out and generally spend more, in the hope of jolting Japan's limp consumer spending as well as curtailing excessive work hours.

The initiative, dubbed "Premium Fridays", is set to start on Feb 24. It took inspiration from consumer events such as Black Friday in the United States.

Retailers desperate for measures that could lift the consumption gloom say they welcome the campaign, Reuters reported.

"We are hoping it will promote a change in lifestyle, with Friday becoming part of the weekend," said Japan Department Stores Association head Tetsuya Konnai. "It could change consumers' mindset."

Companies, shopping districts and municipalities will be urged to participate, the Nikkei Asian Review reported. Restaurants are encouraged to open early on Fridays to attract people who get off work early.

But in a country where long working hours are the norm, there are doubts about how willing companies would be to adopt the plan and whether it would actually stoke consumer spending.

Talk of the initiative comes as economic data showed persistent weakness in consumer spending. Overall growth in the July-September period grew by a faster-than-expected annualised 2.2 per cent, lifted mostly by exports. Private consumption rose only 0.1 per cent.

Past government efforts to jump-start consumption, such as tax breaks in 2009 on energy-efficient appliances, boosted consumer spending but did not drive sustainable growth.

"It will be meaningless if workers leave a few hours early on Friday but work longer hours on other days or on holidays," said Dai-ichi Life Research Institute chief economist Toshihiro Nagahama.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2016, with the headline 'TGIF? Japan wants workers to leave early once a month'. Print Edition | Subscribe