• ANALYSIS

    Revamp of Japan’s temp sector may create lifelong job seekers

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    WITH the bill to overhaul regulations on the use of temporary workers poised to clear the Diet this week, thousands of temps dispatched from staffing agencies worry they may lose their jobs in three years after the change takes effect.

    Observers say those most affected by the revision of the worker dispatch law will be the temps engaged in 26 jobs designated as requiring specialized skills, including translators, software developers, interior designers and secretaries.

    The current law puts a three-year limit on the use of temps to perform the same work, but the 26 jobs are exempt from the time limit.

    The amendment, however, will abolish the complicated job categorizations and place a three-year cap on all temps performing the same work at the firm to which they were sent.

    This means those engaged in the specialized jobs will have to find a new place to work every three years once the change takes effect.

    “They are the ones who will fall victim to the revision,” said Naohiro Yashiro, a labor economy expert and specially appointed professor at Showa Women’s University.

    “They’ve been able to work (in the same job) for an unlimited time, but with the revision, they will be axed after three years.”

    The government-sponsored bill will also enable companies to use temps as long as they abide by a condition to replace the worker with a new dispatched worker every three years.

    Experts said the bill will allow companies to use cheap, “easy-to-lay-off” temps for unlimited periods and will further worsen job security for dispatched workers, especially those engaged in the 26 job categories. For them, the amendment will only increase their risk of losing their jobs, experts said.

    After the bill is passed, the revised law will take effect Sept. 30.

    As of June 2014, about 1.26 million people held temporary positions as dispatch workers in Japan, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

    Among them, 490,000, or nearly 40 percent, worked in the 26 job categories.

    The situation will be much tougher for those aged over 40, compared to younger people, given the harsh job market they face, experts said.

    “Those who are engaged in the 26 designated jobs have relatively stable employment (compared to other temps). But the bill will destabilize their employment,” Yashiro said.

    “Contracts (between temps and staffing agencies) may not be renewed after three years and they may lose their jobs.”

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly claimed the revision will improve the often unstable nature of temporary jobs and open doors for those who wish to land a regular job, because of several measures included in the bill.

    For example, if temps work for three years in the same job, dispatch agencies will be required to ask the company to hire them directly or introduce them to a new job, or switch the dispatch contract to a new, indefinite-term contract.

    But experts doubt the effectiveness of these measures. They say staffing agencies can satisfy their requirements by merely “asking” companies to hire a temp who has put in a three-year stint, with firms under no obligation to comply.

    According to health ministry data, only 27.8 percent of companies that used temps had systems in place to hire dispatched workers as regular employees in 2012.

    Of those, only 5.8 percent actually employed temps directly as regular employees.

    If people want to continue to work in the same job as temps, the only way to be exempt from the three-year cap is to sign an indefinite-term contract with staffing agencies.

    But the chances of getting that contract are slim for most workers, experts said, because agencies would have to pay the workers even when there is no place to send them.

    No transitional measures
    Tokyo-based lawyer Ryo Sasaki said the revision should have included transitional measures or a safety net for those engaged in the 26 jobs.

    In the past, the 26 jobs were also restricted to three years, but with a change in regulations, the cap was scrapped in 2003.

    The government is once again attempting to restore the three-year cap without any effective measures to support those who may lose their jobs, he said.

    “Once the regulations are eased, it will be very hard to tighten them,” Sasaki said.

    Apart from the issues faced by workers engaged in the 26 designated jobs, Sasaki said the revision will increase the ranks of temporary workers whose wages are generally lower than regular employees and who are easily laid off when companies encounter hard times, such as in 2008 when thousands of temps lost their jobs due to the global financial crunch.

    According to labor ministry data, the hourly wages of temps average about 60 to 70 percent that of regular employees.

    Sasaki said the revision will abolish the government’s long-held principle that employing temporary workers is a provisional way to procure short-term labor, because companies will be able to use them indefinitely.

    One key way to improve the employment conditions of dispatch workers would be to provide equal pay for the same jobs, experts said.

    “If the equal pay for equal job principle is realized, using temps will be more expensive than hiring regular employees because of the commissions companies have to pay to staffing agencies,” Yashiro of Showa Women’s University said.

    Therefore, companies will be increasingly pushed to hire temp workers as regular employees.

    Lifetime employment guarantee
    But ensuring equal pay for the same job will not be possible without a fundamental change in Japan’s long-held employment practice whereby regular workers are effectively guaranteed lifetime employment with pay rises based on seniority and age, while temps are paid for the types of jobs they perform regardless of their age, Yashiro said.

    Lifetime employment and the seniority system enjoyed by regular workers, however, come at a price, he said.

    Regular employees often have to engage in notorious long working hours, and have to do whatever jobs companies order them to do. Also, they often face transfers to other locations, he said.

    On the other hand, temps are guaranteed to work a set job at a set location throughout their period of dispatch, Yashiro said.

    “The temporary worker problem is just the tip of the iceberg of Japan’s labor woes,” he said.

    He said, “It is closely linked to the way regular employees work.”

    ©2015 THE JAPAN TIMES (TOKYO) / DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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