60-day extension for unemployment insurance benefits OK’d

Kyodo News

The Cabinet approved a bill Tuesday to extend by up to 60 days the eligibility period for unemployment insurance benefits for people thrown out of work and haven’t found a new job.

The bill, a revision to the unemployment insurance law, will be submitted to the Diet this session. The ruling bloc will seek to push the bill through by March 31, a move that would allow most clauses to take effect April 1, the start of fiscal 2009.

The bill was drafted in response to the rapid deterioration of the labor market, where a growing number of people are out of work for such reasons as corporate failures and cost-cutting, according to government officials and lawmakers.

The Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties are considering drawing up their own legislative proposals, including one to expand the scope of people eligible for jobless benefits.

At present, people who have lost jobs are eligible to get benefits for periods of 90 to 330 days, depending on their age and how long they paid insurance premiums into the government-run employment insurance system.

Under the amendment, the eligibility period would be extended by up to 60 days if the chief of a local public job-placement office determines that a job seeker needs to receive benefits for a longer period.

The bill would also provide greater help to people who were working under fixed-term contracts and whose employers do not renew them. They would be eligible for benefits after paying premiums for six months or more, shorter than the current minimum requirement of one year.

The current jobless insurance system requires workers to pay premiums equal to 0.6 percent of their monthly wages into the national treasury, with their employers obliged to match the premium amount.

The bill would provisionally soften the premium burden in fiscal 2009 by lowering it to 0.4 percent for both workers and their employers.

The government plans to expand the scope of people qualified to take out insurance under the system by including fixed-term employees whose employers “are expected to hire them for six months or more.”

This would soften the current condition that qualifies only “those who are expected to remain employed for one year or more.”

The eligibility revision would increase the number of people enrolled in the jobless insurance system by 1.5 million.