Wage gap, why not treat part-timers equally? -- Akahata editorial, September 21

The number of low-wage part-time workers continues to increase. A survey shows that in 2001 there were 9.49 million part-time workers, up 140 percent from 1995, accounting for more than 20 percent of the nation's work force.

Widening gap

The number of part-time workers has increased because many companies have been replacing more and more regular workers with part-time workers and other contingency workers in unstable jobs.

This year's white paper on labor states that demand is growing for a higher percentage of low-wage part-time workers and other contingent workers that make it easier for employers to adjust work force levels according to the economic situation.

The problem is that the wage gap between workers in general and women part-timers is so wide. The white paper says that women part-time workers (who account for 76 percent of all part-timers) receive only 55.5 percent on average of regular workers' wages.

What's more, the wage gap continues widening. Twenty years ago, women part-timers' wages were 70.5 percent of regular workers' wage. The figure 10 years ago was 64.4 percent.

The Part-Time Labor Law came into effect in 1993, but the gap is still expanding. This means that the current law is ineffective in filling the gap.

The Part-Time Labor Law only takes into account the balance between part-timers and regular workers; it does not ensure women's equality. In addition, the law only provides non-binding guidelines to diminish the inequality.

This is a discrimination in violation of the constitutional principle of equality and the Labor Standards Law's principle of equal pay for equal labor.

Discrimination against part-timers in Japan also runs counter to the world trend.

The European Union prohibits its member countries from discriminating against part-time workers and provides the principle of equal pay for equal labor. The International Labor Organization (ILO) in Treaty No. 175 establishes the principle of equal treatment between full-time and part-time workers.

It is unacceptable for the government to seek to maintain the low-wage system and discrimination against part-time workers, instead of decreasing the wage gap.

The final report published last July by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's research group on part-time work calls for Japanese-style equal treatment regulations to be established, saying that the European principle of "equal pay for equal labor" is not applicable to Japan.

By "Japanese-style," the panel means that there can be differentials between workers who can do overtime work or accept transfer and those who cannot, and that a new category of work force can be created between full-time workers and general part-time workers, such as "short part-time regular workers."

How anachronistic it is to try to reduce the gaps not by increasing the base wage for part-timers but by virtually cutting wages for regular workers. What is more, the ministry says that it is difficult to legislate these "equal treatment rules" and therefore they should remain as mere "guidelines."

The guidelines will only lead to worsening wages and working conditions of all workers, regular employees included.

The HL&W Ministry's guidelines comply with the "employment diversity" strategy of the financial circles in pursuit of further wage cuts, corporate restructuring, and increased job insecurity.

The call for more low-wage labor will only lead to deepening the economic failure, with the people's income, consumption, and production shrinking further.

Even the Mitsubishi Research Institute, which is connected with big monopoly capital, is recommending reduction of wage gaps for part-timers. It estimates that smaller wage gaps will slow down the increase of part-timers and increase regular employees, which in turn will increase income, consumption, and production in the national economy. The action will not result in increased cost for corporations, the institute said.

Equal treatment as governing principle

Trade unions affiliated with the two national centers, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) and the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) are unanimously demanding that the wage base for part-timers be increased and that a law is enacted on the principle of equal treatment for part-timers in equal labor with regular employees. The government has an obligation to enact such legislation. (end)