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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 December 11 - 17  > Increase in precarious employment will cause ‘race to the bottom’ in Japan’s labor standards
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2019 December 11 - 17 [LABOR]

Increase in precarious employment will cause ‘race to the bottom’ in Japan’s labor standards

December 12, 2019

The number of people working as freelancers outside conventional employment relations has been increasing. They are, however, for the most part working under low-paid and unstable conditions. This shows that the continued increase in the use of such workers carries a risk of imposing on all workers in Japan a “race to the bottom” in labor standards.

In a survey that the Cabinet Office conducted between January and February 2019, about 3.41 million people are working as freelance workers. Of the people in this category, so-called “gig workers” who enter work agreements with on-demand companies online has become the majority.

The government and business circles have been promoting “gig work” by praising this work style as a way of enabling people to choose when and where they perform work. However, “gig workers” are frequently classified as independent contractors and excluded from labor law protections such as the application of minimum wages and the industrial compensation system. In addition, this work style is criticized for causing various problems, including unilateral termination of contracts and poor pay for services performed by contractors, which drives them into excessively long working hours to obtain the necessary amount of income to live on.

In Japan, “Uber Eats” offering a food delivery service with its mobile app is a typical example.

Food delivery staff working for Uber Eats normally work 12-13 hours a day. One delivery staff said, “Under the Uber business system, we suffer unilateral cuts in unit prices and our pay falls far short of minimum wages. This forces us to work excessively long hours in order to make ends meet.”

In addition to an increase in unstable employment, there is another problem in which more and more foreign workers are used as disposable, cheap laborers.

A Labor Ministry survey showed that as of the end of 2018, the number of foreigners working in Japan reached 1.46 million, a threefold increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly 310,000 are working under the foreign trainee system and 300,000 are overseas students working part-time jobs.

Another Labor Ministry survey revealed that in 2018, 70% of 7,334 companies which were investigated by labor law enforcement authorities in regard to the use of foreign trainees violated labor laws. The most common act was the violation of work hour rules (1,711) followed by breaches of regulations on occupational safety (1,670) and overtime work (596).

The Abe government intends to further increase the use of foreign workers under the name of solving labor shortages while leaving the current exploitative situation untouched.

Past related articles:
> Abe gov’t seeks to promote business-oriented policy on gig work [July 30, 2019]
> Increasing number of foreign trainees used in violation of labor laws [March 15, 2019]
> Freelance-work industry will expand unstable jobs, threatening people's safety [May 30, 2018]
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