[Marxism] Cost of economic 'stability' in Japan
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Mon Dec 22 13:21:05 MST 2008
Japan's "working poor" at risk as recession hitsWed Oct 29, 2008 8:45pm EDTBy Linda SiegTOKYO (Reuters) - When Miwa Takeuchi found out her part-time clerical jobhad been outsourced to a Japanese temp staffing agency and she'd have towork longer hours for lower pay, she was relieved. At least she was stillemployed.Three years later, Takeuchi, a single mother and one of Japan's growingranks of "working poor" who struggle to get by on annual income of $20,000or less, takes a darker view."When I thought about it, I realized that the more I worked, the less Igot," she said. "I started out as a regular worker, but ... over the pastdecade, I have just gotten poorer."Takeuchi is not alone.A decade of corporate cost-cutting and labor market deregulation hastransformed Japan's employment landscape. More than a third of allemployees are non-regular workers without job security -- part-timers,contract workers and temps -- and more than 10 million are "working poor."That's a sharp contrast from the 1980s, when more than 80 percent ofworkers had job security and most felt middle class.Now, as the global financial crisis sweeps over the economy, non-regularworkers risk being hit fast and hard, raising concerns the slump will besteeper and the impact more concentrated on the most vulnerable comparedto past downturns.The number of fixed-term workers at Toyota Motor Corp, for example, fellto 6,800 last month from around 9,000 in July-September last year inresponse to weaker demand, a spokesman for Japan's leading car maker said."In countries with a high level of atypical work conditions, in many casesprecarious working conditions, there is a much greater risk that in timesof recession these groups are hit first and most," said Michael Forster, asocial policy analyst at the Paris-based Organisation of EconomicCooperation and Development (OECD).POLITICAL AGENDAA 2006 report showing poverty in Japan had risen to one of the highestlevels among the OECD's 30 member countries, largely because of the gapbetween regular and non-regular workers, shocked many and helped put thetopic on the political agenda."Japan already has the fourth-largest 'inequality' levels of all majorcountries. Who would have predicted this just 10 years ago?" Ichiro Ozawa,the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, said in a speech at arecent party convention."If we continue to ignore inequality, our economy will eventually stopfunctioning and Japanese society will collapse."The Democrats have made improving job security and shrinking income gaps akey part of their platform ahead of an election that must be held bySeptember 2009 and could come sooner.An OECD report this month showed income gaps shrank somewhat between 1999and 2004, mainly because the rich became less wealthy. Yet the reportstill ranked Japan fourth among its member countries in terms of poverty,defined as those living on less than half the median income.Not to be outdone, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is promisingsubsidies for firms that hire so-called "senior freeters" -- part-time jobhoppers aged 25-39, many of whom graduated during Japan's 1994-2004"Employment Ice Age," when firms struggling with economic stagnation shiedaway from hiring."Companies can't just invest in capital goods. They have to invest inworkers too or they won't buy things," said LDP lawmaker Masazumi Gotoda,who helped draft his party's proposals.Such older "freeters," estimated to total nearly 1 million last year, havebecome what media call a "Lost Generation," trapped in unstable,low-paying jobs lacking unemployment benefits or health insurance."We have had a very rigid employment scheme in which recruits to largecompanies are limited to those who just graduated ... so those whograduated during the 'Ice Age' cannot get good jobs even when the economyrecovers," said Naohiro Yashiro, an economics professor at InternationalChristian University."LOST GENERATION"Among the most vulnerable are daily temps who find employment throughstaffing agencies and earn about 7,000 yen ($70) a day at factories,construction sites and in other low-skilled jobs."I never know whether I'll have a job until the evening before," one36-year-old man who works as a daily temp, mostly on delivery trucks, tolda recent symposium on the topic."A job might last a week, or there might be no work at all, so I don'thave a fixed monthly income," the man said, adding that he survives onlybecause he lives at home with his parents.Activists and labor lawyers argue that while the system helps companiesfine-tune employment in response to ups and downs in the economy, the costto society as a whole is heavy."At a micro-level, companies may feel that this is good for them to beable to adjust employment easily, but if large numbers of people cannotsupport themselves, social uncertainty will rise," said Shuichiro Sekine,secretary-general of a temp union."Many workers will have to rely on welfare, and that's a big loss forsociety overall."And though politicians talk of remedies, activists such as Chieki Akaishiof support group Single Mothers' Forum are wary."They've realized they must listen to such people or they can't get votes,but they aren't trying to change the fundamental social framework toinclude equal pay for equal work and equal treatment for regular andnon-regular workers," she said.(Editing by Megan Goldin)© Thomson Reuters 2008.
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