Temps in manufacturing feel full brunt of slump

by Natsuko Fukue

The deepening recession is worrying workers nationwide, particularly temporary employees in the manufacturing industry.

According to the latest survey by the labor ministry, 30,067 temp workers have either been let go since October or face the ax by March.

The majority are in the manufacturing sector, accounting for 65 percent. By prefecture, Aichi — home to many auto-related firms, particularly Toyota Motor Corp. — will see the most temp jobs lost, 4,104, by March, the ministry survey shows.

“Toyota shouldn’t dismiss temp workers as if they are a disposable workforce. All the company says is that it is doing nothing illegal,” said Saichi Kurematsu, secretary general of the Aichi Prefectural Federation of Trade Unions.

“Temp workers lose their place to live as soon as they lose their job,” he said, noting that many employers provide housing for them.

According to Kurematsu, 1,465 workers sought job counseling from January to October, compared with 1,300 in 2007 and 800 in 2006.

In September, Toyota cut its 8,800-strong temp workforce to 6,800. The carmaker announced it will cut 3,000 more by March. Toyota’s parts-making subsidiaries have also been shedding temp workers, although statistics are elusive.

Toyota is not the exception. Due to dwindling car sales in the U.S. market, major Japanese automakers have slashed more than 14,000 factory jobs across Japan.

Nissan Motor Co. plans to reduce its temp workers to about 500 from 2,000, while Honda Motor Co. has decided to cut about 270 temp workers at its Saitama plant at the end of December.

Isuzu Motor Corp., a major truck manufacturer, will cut all 1,400 temp workers at two factories, in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Taihei, Tochigi Prefecture, by the end of the month.

Aichi’s jobs-to-applicants ratio had stood at 2:1 from 2000 to 2007 when business was good, drawing people from other parts of Japan seeking temp labor.

Due to the auto layoffs, Kurematsu said idled temp workers from outside Aichi have rushed to Nagoya from as far afield as the Tohoku region, Hokkaido and Okinawa.

“If they cannot find a new job, they have to receive public assistance. Some become homeless. Their numbers are rapidly increasing in Nagoya,” he said, adding many people are spending their nights at Internet cafes.

“A couple from Hokkaido wrote to us that the husband, a temp worker, will be laid off in mid-December, but his wife cannot work because their daughter is only 3 months old,” Kurematsu said. “After paying rent and the necessary expenses, they only have ¥10,000 now.”

Deregulation in recent years is adding to the increase in workers facing unstable job conditions.

In 1985, when it became legal to dispatch temp workers, the job categories were limited mostly to secretaries and translators. Then manufacturing jobs were added when the labor dispatch law was relaxed in 2003.

According to a 2007 labor ministry survey, 37.8 percent of workers across the nation were classified as nonregular, representing a 3.2-point increase from 2003.

To help temp workers, the government has submitted a bill to the Diet to amend the personnel dispatch law to ban job contracts shorter than 31 days between temp staff agencies and workers.

However, experts and labor unions argue 31 days is still too short.

In addition, even under the revised law, staffing agencies will still be allowed to dispatch workers on a single-day basis, ensuring these people remain disposable daily labor, they said.