Posts Tagged ‘civil servants’

Employment counselors forced to sit on the other side of the window

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

The rise of non-regular employment has received a lot of coverage because of its effect on job security in the general work force. A seldom discussed side effect is the acute anxiety experienced by non-regulars as their contracts approach their expiration dates. Will mine be picked up for another year? Will I have to go out and look for a new job next month?

Hello Work website

Hello Work website

For public non-regular employees this emotional roller coaster starts right after Jan. 1, since most contracts end with the fiscal year in March. And for those who have been working in the same position for an extended length of time, there is no solace in the new law that goes into effect this year and which says an employer must hire a contract worker as a regular full-time employee, complete with benefits, if the worker has been in the same position for five years.

Though it’s assumed that many employers will work the loophole by not renewing a contract just before the five-year period is reached and then hiring the person back after a six month “cooling off” period with an open-ended contract, non-regulars who work in the public sector aren’t covered by the new law in the first place. They can be retained as non-regulars indefinitely.

This exception was highlighted when the labor ministry announced that 2,200 non-regular members of its unemployment advisory staff had not had their contracts renewed for fiscal 2013. That represents 10 percent of all the non-regulars employed at Hello Work counseling centers nationwide, and presents an interesting scenario: Former employment counselors who themselves must seek employment advice.

In fact, a Tokyo Shimbun article described one woman in her 50s who received her notice in early March while she still had several weeks on her contract. Though she knew there was always the possibility her yearly contract would not be renewed the lateness of the notice (the media reported the announcement as being “sudden”) caught her off-guard.

In the last weeks of March she was looking for a new job at Hello Work on Saturdays while still working Monday through Friday at the same facility counseling people who themselves were looking for jobs.

One part of the new law that was already in effect before April 1 is to make the practice called yatoidome illegal. “Yatoidome” means nonrenewal of an employment contract for “no good reason,” but, of course, “good reason” constitutes a gray area that the Japanese legal system isn’t equipped to address. It is this part of the law that doesn’t apply to public workers, supposedly because non-regular government employees are only hired as stopgap workers, meaning people employed to fill certain positions on a temporary basis. They do not have to pass a test the way full-time regular civil servants do. However, in many cases, these workers become as indispensable as regular employees. In 2012, 63 percent of all Hello Work employees were non-regulars.

As for why the labor ministry decided to effectively lay off so many employment center staff at one time, a representative told the media that the ministry hired extra contract workers when the recession worsened in 2008 and again after the disaster of 2011, but now the job situation “is stabilizing” so the ministry doesn’t need as many counselors. Some laid-off employees counter this explanation by claiming that their workloads have been heavier in recent months, not lighter, especially in areas most affected by the disaster. What may have sparked the layoffs was the finance ministry, which has been auditing budgets across all government agencies and ministries and demanding cuts.

The yatoidome exception doesn’t just apply to national public workers. One-third of all local government employees, or about 700,000 people, are also non-regulars. That’s an increase of about 100,000 since 2008, according to a labor ministry survey. Of these, 60 percent work more hours than regular employees. More than half of these non-regulars make less than ¥160,000 a month or ¥2 million a year. And because they are technically part-timers, they are not up for promotions or salary increases. The most prevalent jobs in this category of public worker is day care attendant and librarian, but it also includes policemen, firemen and school teachers.

Civil servants are different, especially when it comes to social security

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

A major feature of the Democratic Party of Japan’s manifesto that helped make it the ruling party was its proposed overhaul of the social security system. One feature of the plan was to combine two types of pensions. Regular full-time employees usually pay into the kosei nenkin system if they work for a private company, or into the kyosai nenkin system if they work for a public entity. This latter group includes civil servants, whether they work for the central government or a local one, and school teachers, including instructors at private schools.

You're the only one who cares about your pension

However, there is a real difference in terms of both premiums and benefits between the two systems. Though in both cases, the employee splits his contributions with his employer, the rate is less for kyosai nenkin members than it is for kosei nenkin members. Even more significant, kyosai nenkin members after retirement receive ¥20,000-a-month more in benefits than do kosei nenkin members. And that’s not all. While the widows of both kosei nenkin and kyosai nenkin members can receive a special pension when they survive those members, under certain conditions other surviving family members of deceased kyosai nenkin members can also receive benefits. That does not apply to kosei nenkin members and their families.

The problem with the proposal to combine these two systems is that public servants will lose these special privileges. The kyosai nenkin system will adhere to the regulations associated with the kosei nenkin system, which is is why it hasn’t been discussed much during the current Diet session. The bureaucracy, needless to say, isn’t very fond of the proposal and is fighting it.

Another social security proposal from the manifesto that seems to have died on the vine is bringing more non-regular employees into the kosei nenkin system. At present, anyone who joins has to work at least 30 hours a week. Otherwise they have to pay into the kokumin nenkin, or regular pension, system. Forces in the DPJ were supposed to submit a bill during this session that would change the rules for kosei nenkin members to allow anyone who works more than 20 hours a week and has been in his or her position for at least six months to join. In this new system, a 45-year-old woman who makes ¥100,000 a month must pay a set premium of ¥15,000 a month into the basic pension system, but if she meets the conditions of the new system, she would join the kosei nenkin system and split the premium with her employer, which means she’d pay only ¥8,000 a month. At retirement, that amount would give her ¥500 a month more in benefits than the basic pension benefit for each year of payment. So if she paid into the system for 20 years, she’d get ¥10,000 more a month.

The main difference would be for “type 3” members, meaning wives of kosei nenkin members. At present, type 3 members don’t have to pay anything, but under this proposed revision the housewife would have to pay ¥8,000 a month, just as the employed woman would; that is, if she decided to join.

It goes without saying that the main obstacle to implementing this plan is employers, who don’t want the extra burden of having to pay their part of kosei nenkin premiums. In any case, the government’s idea of a totally integrated social security overhaul that would result in a guaranteed minimum pension has been roundly criticized, so it seems even less likely that these two proposals, which wouldn’t really cost anything, have much of a chance. At present, the only thing the administration cares about is pushing an increase of the consumption tax.

So how much do politicians’ secretaries make?

Friday, February 17th, 2012

How many well paid secretaries does it take to keep the Japanese government running smoothly?

Further on in our discussion about how much taxpayer money goes toward salaries for public servants, elected and otherwise, one of the reasons given by Diet lawmakers for opposing a cut in their own salaries is that they are limited in terms of publicly funded staff. The government pays for up to three secretaries. A politician has to cover the salaries of any staff above that number.

Lawmakers have a variety of reasons for why they might need more than three secretaries. Often the head secretary is in charge of policy, which is why the government will compensate the politician by as much as ¥13 million a year for the secretary’s services, especially if the politician isn’t thoroughly versed in particular areas of policy. Some policy secretaries are professionals in this regard, jumping from one lawmaker to another — usually within the same party — depending on the extent of the lawmaker’s knowledge and experience. After that, secretaries mostly perform office work and deal directly with constituents. But according to an article in the online magazine Post Seven, many also act as valets and bagmen, and some are apprentice politicians. Democratic Party of Japan kingpin Ichiro Ozawa has a dozen or so secretaries, several of whom have gotten into trouble for accepting illegal contributions, and at least one who has become a Diet member in his own right.

Secretary salaries start at ¥6.5 million a year and increase depending on experience and other factors. They receive a ¥30,000 commuting allowance and a ¥27,000 housing allowance per month. The money goes directly into the politician’s operating account, which means the politician pays his secretaries both their salaries and expenses. That’s why the system is easy to abuse. Some years ago family members were banned from taking secretary positions because most tend to be staff in name only. The money paid for their services just went directly into the lawmaker’s pocket, but it was difficult to prove so they just make it illegal to hire relatives. However, it’s easy to do the same sort of thing with a secretary who isn’t a relative. The lawmaker has to request the payments, after which the secretary may have to take some sort of qualifying exam, though Post Seven says there are lots of loopholes. Some politicians don’t take money from the government for staff because they don’t want to be suspected of abusing the system. The situation is made even cloudier by the fact that neither house of the Diet reveals publicly how much they spend on lawmakers’ staff.

Politicians hope you don’t notice when their pay goes back to normal

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Nice work if you can get it

Six months is a long time, and considering all that has happened since the March 11 earthquake, the past half-year may seem even longer. So it wouldn’t be surprising if a lot of people have forgotten that the Diet passed a law shortly after the disaster to cut their own salaries by 30 percent for a period of six months. This gesture was on top of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s forfeiture of his own special prime minister’s allowance, not to mention the 10 percent additional cut in salary for all members of the cabinet as a budget countermeasure, which has been in force since the Yukio Hatayama administration.

Next month things go back to normal, and maybe the lawmakers are hoping the electorate has forgotten, but at least one person, Kenji Eda of Your Party (Minna no To), is determined that people will remember. On Sept. 27, during the budget deliberation talks, he asked Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda whether or not he would forfeit his prime minister’s allowance, just as Kan did, for the sake of reconstruction. Noda, of course, is expected to ask for a long-delayed increase in the consumption tax as a means to fund reconstruction, which, over the next decade, is estimated to cost ¥11 trillion. As it turns out, while Noda as a Diet lawmaker has had his salary cut 30 percent like everyone else, it seems he’s been receiving his prime minister’s allowance, calculated on a daily basis, in full since he took over from Kan. Noda answered that the cabinet would continue with the 10 percent cut but said nothing about his own pay.

This is notable in that one of the items in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s manifesto was a 20 percent cut in all personnel costs, covering pay and expenses of all government employees, politicians and civil servants alike. Had the DPJ actually carried through with that promise, they could easily come up with the ¥11 trillion needed for reconstruction. Of course, at the time the manifesto was made the savings were envisioned to pay off Japan’s debt, so by itself the 20 percent personnel expense cut isn’t enough.

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