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Toyota leads world's automakers by exploiting short-term workers

The world's major automaker Toyota Motor has produced a record profit of more than 1 trillion yen for two consecutive years. It hires about 10,000 short-term workers at its car assembly plants. This year, the number for the first time has exceeded 30 percent of all factory workers.

Toyota has 12 factories in Toyota City and nearby cities in Aichi Prefecture. At 3 p.m. on Sunday, two young men came out of a convenience store chewing bread and said,

"Our job is so hard. We have just got up. Sleeping is the only way to recover from our fatigue."

A man with brown-dyed hair, pierced earring, and necklace was gulping down milk. The 22-year-old man from Hokkaido worked on an assembly line for 6 months last year.

"I had a herniated disk due to fatigue from overwork. Doing this hard work only for 9,000 yen a day is not worth it. I know a guy who quit on his first day. I myself also went back to Hokkaido once, thinking I would never come back to Toyota."

Unable to find a job in his hometown, he came back to Toyota two months later. He is currently doing engine-related work.

"It's also hard work. I feel depressed on Mondays, so I go to work like this," he said as he walked bending his body.

The other man was laughing at him. The 19-year-old worker, who could not find a job after graduating high school in northeast Japan, applied for this job which he found in a job information magazine.

"I came here because I was told that a free dorm is available and a bonus for special services will be paid when the contract expires."

Gap between regular and fixed-term workers

Toyota Chairman Okuda Hiroshi, who is also Japan Business Federation chair, announced that Toyota will produce more than 8.5 million units in 2006 in order to overtake GM, the world's largest car manufacturer, in sales. In order to achieve this goal, Toyota hired 10,900 short-term workers by June this year. The number was 5,900 in 2003.

Toyota workers on assembly lines work in two 12-hour shifts. Workers employed on a short-term contract period have no choice but to endure Toyota's harsh working conditions. Their first contract lasts for 4-6 months with a daily wage of 9,000-9,800 yen. Even if they work 20 hours of overtime, their wages will not be more than 250,000 yen a month, including late-night allowances. They receive about three million yen a year with no seasonal bonuses, which is about one third or one half of regular workers' wages.

There are big differences between regular workers and workers on a short-term contract regarding their day-to-day treatment. For example, regular workers pay only half the cost for lunch under the company welfare program, but the latter workers must pay the full cost. A 19-year-old short-term worker said, "I want to be treated equally with the subsidy for lunch."

The Japanese Communist Party Toyota Motor Committee called for an allowance for lunch and succeeded in having the company pay them 20,000 yen per contract period for lunch.

Those who work on short-term contracts are the main workforce making it possible for Toyota to cut costs by imposing excessive workloads, long hours of work, and working conditions that are obviously worse than those for regular workers. They feel discontented being treated as disposable workers.

As a step to reform this, Toyota introduced a new system to promote short-term workers to regular workers. Toyota's public relations office said that the company hired 150 short-term workers as regular workers in 2003, 590 in 2004, and will hire another 900 in 2005. The number, however, is so small, accounting for less than ten percent of those who work on short-term contracts.

Special-term system

In May, the company announced another system to introduce "special short-term employees." There is an in-house personnel document on the scheme.

Previously, it was necessary for short-term workers to quit the company after their contract term expired and to then reenter the company if they wished to continue to work. But the document says that special short-term employees may work successively for up to 35 months according to their wishes and the need of assembly lines. Furthermore, they can work on failures and troubles, which only regular workers could do so far.

Special-term workers' daily wage will increase to 10,000 yen in their second year and 13,000 yen in the third year, slightly higher than ordinary short-term workers.

Regarding this system, a press operator of Toyota's Takaoka Plant, Ishida Kuniyoshi said, "It will make no difference, except for their wages and employment term. This is only a way to reduce the number of regular workers and instead increase the number of short-term employees."

Director of the Aichi Labor Institute Saruta Masaki (professor at Chukyo University) pointed out, "I think Toyota introduced the special-term employment system as it had a sense of crisis concerning its quality control due to an increase in the number of short-term workers. But the company imposed working conditions only slightly over the normal fixed-term employees. I wonder if handing down of skills will go well or not." -- Akahata Sunday Edition, June 26, 2005

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