Jobs are hard to come by -- Changing employment structure in Japan

The job market is badly hit by the prolonged economic recession. The unemployment rate for February was 5.2 percent, down 0.3 percentage point from January. Akahata of April 2 ran an article analyzing the present state of the job market as follows:

As the unemployment rate fell slightly in February, the ratio of job offers to seekers also increased by 0.1 point to 0.61.

But these figures can hardly be taken as signs of improvement in the job market. That's why the government described the situation as a "see-saw".

A recently published government study on job creation and unemployment stressed the need to know more about the changes taking place in the employment structure.

Taking into account the ongoing structural changes, the recent numerical improvements are not welcome.

The number of people who have stopped seeking jobs has rapidly increased since 1998, and the tight job market has discouraged many unemployed people from looking for jobs. That's why so many unemployed people become statistically invisible and the unemployment rate last year stayed at the 5.0-5.4 percent level.

During the same period, however, the number of people with jobs rapidly fell. Declines in wages were also sharp. The average wage for regular workers last year was less than what they had been paid the year before.

The number of regular (full-time) workers is decreasing, while low-wage workers at unstable part-time jobs is on the rise. In 1992, part-time workers accounted for 13 percent of the workforce. In 2002, the percentage rose to 22.

Unlike increasing job offers, the number of people who are out of work would not decrease. The government says that this is due to a "mismatch between jobs and workers," apparently in the attempt to place the blame on job seekers. The fact is that jobs available are mostly low-paid and temporary. This is like forcing job seekers into tolerating inadequate working conditions and wages, saying, "Jobs are available only if you lower your standards to meet the conditions."

The job market getting tighter is one side of the coin. In workplaces "forced overtime work without pay", "death from overwork (karoshi)", "suicide caused by unbearably heavy workloads", and superiors' "power harassment" are terms used to describe the present work environment. If workers complain about excessively heavy workloads, they get scolded by superiors saying, "You can quit if you don't want to do it." Many workers are constantly under such pressure until they die of karoshi.

Experts say: "In times of a severe economic recession forcing many people out of work, management without compassion has become acceptable. Under the performance evaluation system, both managerial people and their subordinates are suffering."

The "achievement-based job performance evaluation system" which used to be touted as a merit of American capitalism is now being called into question.

The number of people working in agriculture and forestry decreased by 1.07 million in the ten years leading up to 2002. In the manufacturing industry, the number of workers fell by 1.6 million in the five years up to 2002. The number of self-employed and their family member employees (including those in agriculture and forestry), which is the industrial power base, declined by 3.24 million during the decade to slightly above 9 million.

A flood of imports, plant closings and relocations abroad, corporate restructuring, personnel dismissals, and cutbacks in unit costs paid to subcontractors are actions that large corporations take as much as they like in both urban and rural areas. These actions caused the number of jobs to decrease.

The urgent task is for the government to strengthen regulations of these corporate actions. Elimination of forced overtime work in accordance with the Labor Standards Law can create a substantial number of jobs.

In some municipalities, the movement by traders, trade unions, and the Japanese Communist Party has borne fruit in getting municipalities to enact ordinances establishing corporate social responsibility and large corporations have to explain to administrative authorities why their plants need to be moved abroad.

In Rikuzentakata City in the northeastern Japanese prefecture of Iwate, where a Japanese Communist Party member replaced the city's incumbent mayor in the February election, a former head of the fisheries cooperatives union placed hopes on the new mayor. He said, "Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries are the city's key industries. We agree with the JCP on the need to promote these industries."

As the cabinet led by the Liberal Democratic and Komei parties is pushing the Koizumi "structural reform" policy that will mean more business failures and unemployment, signs of regional changes are emerging. (end)

Copyright (c) Japan Press Service Co., Ltd. All right reserved.