Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

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.

Electronics makers lead the way in killing off lifetime employment system

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

The big domestic economic news this week is the steep slide in stock prices for Sharp Corporation. Japan’s leading liquid crystal display manufacturer has seen its shares fall 73 percent since the beginning of the year due to an oversupply of television sets in a world that no longer thinks Japanese home electronics are the best that money can buy.

If you’re not Takashi Okuda, president of Sharp Corp., you probably don’t have lifetime employment. (Kyoto photo)

The only thing keeping Sharp going at this point is its parts supply business, especially the deal it has with Taiwan-based company Foxconn, which assembles iPhones and iPads for Apple and uses Sharp-manufactured liquid crystal displays. Last week, Sharp announced it was eliminating 5,000 jobs from its worldwide 56,000-person workforce, the biggest employment cut in the company’s history. It is also going to slash management salaries, including the president’s, by 50 percent. Originally, it was only going to be 20 percent.

In terms of pure numbers, Sharp’s cuts are actually modest compared to other electronics makers. Last January, NEC announced it was eliminating 10,000 jobs. Sony also said it would cut 10,000 employees in April. Panasonic, which employs more than 360,000 worldwide, has said it has “targeted” 7,000 positions in its headquarters alone working in office services, R&D and production technology. They will either be transferred to other divisions or subsidiaries, or pressured to take early retirement. And as these companies scale back, affiliated businesses will have to do the same. Renesas, one of Japan’s leading semiconductor makers, which mainly supplied NEC, will have to cut 30 percent of its workforce, the equivalent of 12,000 jobs.

Even the electronics companies that are stable right now, like Toshiba and Hitachi, haven’t escaped the downsizing trend; they just carried out their massive job cutting a few years ago, which is one of the reasons they’re doing relatively well right now and aren’t in the news as much. Another reason is that they’ve moved away from consumer electronics, where the competition is just too fierce.

Not surprisingly, home electronics is no longer a field that young university graduates are interested in. Ten years ago, Sony, Panasonic and others of their size were at the top of the wish lists of college seniors, but according to the online version of the business magazine Diamond, all new graduates care about now is getting a position in the public sector. Though the official unemployment rate in Japan is only 4.5 percent, young people know that securing work does not mean security, at least not in the classic sense, so even getting a job with an “excellent company” doesn’t guarantee a job for life. Only the civil service does. The government never restructures.

A survey was carried out by the employment consulting firm, Leggenda Corp., of students who will enter the workforce in 2013. More than 50 percent say their first choice is to work for the government. The Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training gets more specific. In a survey of 4,000 20-year-old men and women, they found that 87.5 percent will prioritize lifetime employment (shushin koyo) when they look for their first job. These respondents also look forward to “age-based promotions and raises,” another attribute of the old Japanese employment system that has gone the way of the dodo, at least in the private sector. This is the highest percentage on record, which just goes to prove that people really don’t miss their water until the well goes dry.

How to keep your health insurance when you can’t pay for it

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

The damage: bill for national health insurance

Last week, the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare released the results of a survey of about 60,000 households regarding the government-run basic pension plan. The ministry found that about one-fourth of the people who are supposed to be paying into the plan had no income in 2009. In addition, 38 percent of participants made less than ¥500,000 for the year, and 54.7 percent made less than ¥1 million.

The basic pension, kokumin nenkin, is for people who don’t work for companies or organizations that contribute to their employees’ government-run pensions, meaning they are either self-employed, part-timers or unemployed (and not wives of salaried workers). In 2011 only 58.6 percent of people who were supposed to pay into the basic pension plan actually did. The obvious conclusion the ministry drew from these numbers is that the ranks of the poor are growing.

These findings are sobering, but one should keep in mind that while not paying one’s pension contributions certainly undermines the system it doesn’t affect the person in a direct way, since he or she does not benefit from those contribution until he or she is old. In any case, if a person can’t pay the monthly ¥14,980 basic pension contribution because he or she is unemployed, the person can apply for an exemption.

Continue reading about national health insurance →

Caregiving not the unemployment panacea the government hoped for

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

The Kaigo Hoken Seido (Long-term Care Insurance System) that the government launched in 2000 had two purposes. The first was to collect monthly premiums from everyone over the age of 40 to pay for caregiving services for the ever-burgeoning ranks of the elderly; and the second was to provide employment for that other burgeoning demographic of people who needed full-time work in an economy that was increasingly shipping jobs overseas and which at home was resorting more to non-regular employees.

A nursing home in Arakawa Ward, Tokyo

According to the law the system has to be reviewed every three years, and the government is now thinking of revisions for 2012. In all likelihood, premiums will be raised again, since they’ve been raised every time the system has come up for review in the past. The average premium for salaried employees under 65 has risen from ¥2,075 a month in 2000 to ¥4,342 in 2009; while for people 65 and older it’s risen from ¥2,900 to ¥4,160.

These increases are supposed to help cover the cost of the system, which was ¥3.2 trillion in 2000, ¥6 trillion in 2005 and ¥7.9 trillion this year. Premiums provide half the money needed, with tax revenues covering the other half. People who require care pay about 10 percent of the bill out of their own pocket with the rest being paid for by the kaigo hoken system. These moneys are paid to care providers, often NPOs and even corporations that hire and dispatch licensed caregivers or run care facilities. So the money not only goes to pay workers, but also to purchase equipment and pay administrative costs. These various costs have skyrocketed in the past decade, and one of the changes that the government is contemplating for 2012 is a raise in the deductible to 20 percent. According to an article in the Yomiuri Shimbun, however, there are many elderly who are too poor right now to even cover the current 10 percent.

Moreover, the system doesn’t seem to be strong enough to support the kind of workforce the government originally envisioned. A survey conducted by the Wakate Fukushi Jushisha Network (Young Welfare Employees Network) found that 83 percent of younger professional caregivers thought their jobs were both “difficult” and “low paying.” Turnover in the industry is big. In 2008, the quitting rate among “home helpers” — workers who visit the homes of the elderly to clean house, as well as cook for and bathe their clients — was 13.9 percent. For nursing home employees it was 22 percent. Throughout the entire industry, whether the worker is part-time or full-time, 39 percent quit before they’ve worked a year and 36 percent quit before they’ve worked three years.

Continue reading about caregiving in Japan →

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