Post office attempts to reverse non-regular employment trend

July 23rd, 2010 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Got a job

Got a job

The frontline of Japan’s privatization steamroller is the post office. Junichiro Koizumi staked his political career on removing Japan Post from government control when he made his bid for reelection in 2005 and won by a landslide. However, Shizuka Kamei, the leader of the small Kokumin Shinto party who recently resigned as financial services minister, has staked his own political career on reversing the privatization of Japan Post owing to loyalties within the post-office community. Before quitting he asked Japan Post to offer more regular full-time positions to its non-regular workforce.

Kamei’s target was 100,000 employees, but last week JP announced that about 65,000 of its non-regular staff were actually qualified to take the test to become regular full-time employees, and among them only 34,000 said they would apply for the test by the July 28 deadline. Since these non-regular workers already toil full-time for all intents and purposes, there seemed to be some confusion about why more wouldn’t want to take the test. One of the main reasons, according to the Asahi Shimbun, is that some of them fear they would be eligible for transfers to other cities if they become regular employees.

Otherwise, the decision seems a no-brainer. Regular JP workers make on average three times as much as non-regular JP workers for the same number of hours worked and the same job description, and, of course, non-regular employees are not eligible for advancement and raises, and do not receive benefits, like sick pay. One non-regular employee interviewed by Asahi said he’s been working at JP as a sorter for 14 years. He works three 12-hour shifts a week and receives ¥2.3 million a year before taxes.

This individual wanted to take the test to get regular employment, but at first he couldn’t. The initial criteria for switching to regular employment was that the non-regular employee had to have worked for JP at least 30 years, be less than 60 years old, and is currently working at least 30 hours a week. In practice, the employee fit all three criteria, but in theory he missed out on the last one. His employment contract stated that he was only hired to work 27.5 hours a week, even though he always worked overtime thus putting his hours in excess of 30. But overtime didn’t count. Apparently, quite a few non-regular workers who have the same problem expressed it to their superiors, and before Kamei left his post he changed the criteria to 20 hours a week minimum.

All these potential new regular employees would cost JP an extra ¥100 billion a year. Since going private, the company has shifted to part-time and non-regular workers — it only hires about 2,000 regular employees a year — and the shift back would be expensive. Japan Post now has 210,000 non-regular employees, about half its workforce, making it the country’s single biggest employer of non-regular workers.

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