State to push for child-care leave at all companies

In the latest effort to arrest the nation’s falling birthrate, a government task force Friday approved a new five-year plan that includes numerical targets and the introduction of child-care leave at all companies.

The task force, headed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, based its plan on an outline adopted in June that also called for firms to reduce by at least 10 percent the number of employees who work 60 or more hours a week.

Key pillars of Friday’s plan include encouraging young people to become more independent and supporting efforts to balance work and household chores while reviewing the way people work.

Government officials said the plan also calls for deepening people’s understanding of the importance of life and the role of families.

Justice Minister Chieko Noono, who concurrently serves as minister in charge of matters pertaining to the falling birthrate, said the government hopes to establish a seamless support system from pregnancy through a child’s school life.

“We will also consider financial support to reduce the parents’ burden (of child-rearing) and make them more interested in raising children,” she told a news conference.

According to government data, only about 60 percent of companies offered child-care leave for their employees as of 2002, and about 12.2 percent of employees worked 60 hours or more per week as of 2003.

The government said it plans to encourage workers to take more paid days off, aiming to raise the rate at which employees actually take such leave to at least 55 percent.

Under Friday’s plan, the government will also strive to get 20 percent of working fathers and 80 percent of working mothers to take child-care leave in 10 years’ time.

The government also plans to boost the number of consultation centers where parents can ask questions regarding child-rearing as well as places where parents can leave children in temporary care when they are sick.

For single-mother households, the government plans to boost the number of mothers who obtain professional qualifications with support from their employers to 1,300 from the current 118.

Japan has been struggling to fight the plunging birthrate since 1990, after its total fertility rate reached an all-time low of 1.57 in 1989. The figure — the mean number of children a woman would bear in her lifetime if she were to live through her reproductive years and have children in line with age-specific birthrates in a given year — hit a new low of 1.29 in 2003.