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Parties tussle over job market solutions

DPJ to bolster social security; LDP to make dismissals easier

by Nanae Kenmochi

Kyodo News

The 3 million-plus jobless people and 17 million without full-time work will probably be casting their vote in the July 11 Upper House election for whichever party can offer ways to stabilize employment and provide economic security.

While one of the reasons behind the Democratic Party of Japan’s victory in last year’s general election is widely considered to be the Liberal Democratic Party’s failure to improve people’s livelihoods, it remains to be seen how effective the DPJ will be in rectifying the battered labor situation.

Makoto Yuasa, a grassroots antipoverty activist who also serves as an adviser to the Cabinet Office in Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government, said the DPJ has so far been heading in “the right direction.”

“Things are starting to move” since the DPJ took over the government last September, he said in a recent interview.

For instance, Yuasa pointed to the trial run of a nationwide one-stop service program for jobless people in providing consultations on various matters from job-placement to housing, a project he spearheaded last November.

However, he admitted, “it hasn’t yielded results yet, given the severity of the situation since the global recession.”

In addition to such services, the Diet approved a bill in March to make it easier for temp staff and other nonregular workers to receive jobless benefits.

Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008, which threw the global economy into a prolonged recession, many nonregular workers became the target of corporate cost-cutting.

According to a labor ministry survey released in May, some 278,000 nonregular workers have lost or were expected to lose their jobs during the period from October 2008 through June.

Many who lost their jobs have fallen into poverty. Some became homeless because they did not have sufficient savings and were forced to leave corporate dormitories.

Against the backdrop of a rising population without stable sources of income, the DPJ pledged in its platform for the July 11 election to offer “personal support” in providing one-on-one life consultations to help those facing such adversity, a project supported by Yuasa.

Some view the DPJ’s measures as merely providing emergency relief to those in need and not enough to change the country’s employment system.

“The DPJ’s measures are ineffective in protecting employment stability for nonregular workers,” said Taku Sugawara, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo.

“Rather than promising to help those in need, the government needs to work on changing the structure of corporate employment practices, such as the system of promotion by seniority and lifetime employment” that puts nonregular workers at a disadvantage, Sugawara said.

He said a measure proposed by the LDP to ease restrictions on firing full-time workers has a better chance of bringing drastic changes to the labor market and providing better opportunities for those who are currently employed on a nonregular basis.

“Easing regulations on dismissing workers” is one of the pledges incorporated in the LDP’s platform for the election.

The LDP contends that easier regulations for dismissal, coupled with measures to allow companies to “operate flexibly,” will lead to the “stabilization of employment” through the sustainability of companies.

Yuasa, however, suggested the LDP’s measures would only give corporations an excuse to ax more workers.

The government must first build an effective social security system to protect those who lose their jobs, he said.

Yuasa is pinning his hopes on the DPJ’s proposal, also in its platform, to create jobs by strengthening the country’s social security system, such as training and hiring caregivers for the aging population.

The DPJ’s undertaking to establish a new job market in social welfare will be a challenge that will take longer than a few years to achieve, Yuasa admitted.

“One needs to have a medium- to long-term stance” on evaluating the DPJ’s measures to bring economic security to workers, he said.