Work-sharing could protect jobs: Mitarai

by Hiroko Nakata

Big business needs to take every measure possible to improve the rapidly deteriorating employment conditions, and work-sharing is an option that should be considered, Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) Chairman Fujio Mitarai said Tuesday.

Also, the government and the private sector should work together to create a safety net for people who lose their jobs, Mitarai said at a news conference.

“To solve the current labor problems, the corporate sector should create a safety net together with the government and take every step to expand employment,” the head of the country’s most influential business lobby said.

“The idea of work-sharing is one option for a company that needs to adjust employment,” he said.

The concept of work-sharing, where responsibility for one job is shared with one or more part-time workers, is a familiar one in Europe. Few Japanese companies have tried it.

As for the hundreds of jobless people — many of them laid-off temp workers — who spent the New Year’s holidays camped out in Hibiya Park in Tokyo, Mitarai said: “I am very sorry and personally feel sympathy with them.”

He said their plight was a result of job adjustments carried out by companies that were suddenly forced to cut production because of the global economic downturn.

On the economic outlook for 2009, Mitarai said it will be extremely harsh. He said he expects the benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average to slip to as low as 6,000 by the end of the year. The Nikkei closed at 9,080.84 Tuesday.

At the same time, the world economy has the potential for strong growth, considering the strength of emerging economies, possibilities for market expansion and potential growth of new businesses resulting from technological innovation, Mitarai said.

At a separate gathering Tuesday, business leaders of top companies called for speedy measures to stem the economic downturn, saying it could be longer and more devastating than previous economic cycles.