Improve job situation for women, firms told

by Yumi Wijers-Hasegawa

Japanese companies have been told to wake up and treat their female employees better.

To maintain a quality workforce amid the shrinking labor pool, firms must put an end to unnecessarily long overtime and stop making it difficult for employees to take child-care leave, an OECD official in charge of social policy said Tuesday.

Willem Adema, project manager of the OECD family-friendly policy reviews, presented a report on how taxes, social benefits, child care and employment policies affect the lives of working parents and influence the formation of families.

The OECD, which also conducted surveys in Austria and Ireland, will poll most of its member states before presenting an overview at the beginning of 2005.

“In terms of female employment rate, Japan is close to the OECD countries’ average at 60 percent,” he said at a Tokyo news conference. “But as soon as the women bear children, the rate drops sharply to way below average, at less than 30 percent.”

The figure for Japan is less than half that of, for example, Denmark and Austria, he said.

If women return to the workforce in Japan after childbirth, they take on jobs that are way below their capacity, he said. Any job considered a career in Japan is associated with heavy overtime work, he said.

“Japanese companies should realize that if they leave their workplace customs as is, they will have a serious problem with a shortage of good quality labor amid the falling birthrate,” he said “Society should realize that there is inefficient use of labor force by the workplaces.”

Japanese companies often set incomprehensible age-related entry barriers that keep skilled and experienced women from returning to work of the same level as before they left, he said.

The tax and pension system meanwhile reward women for remaining the lowest income earners in the family, he said. Such systems are unnecessary, he said.

“In most OECD countries, a one-earner system (in a family) is old-fashioned,” he said. “How to keep two earners and increase tax revenue (for the government) . . . is an important issue.

Women staying home and caring for children do not help the birthrate anymore, he said.