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Hosokawa pledges more jobs for young people

by Natsuko Fukue

New Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Ritsuo Hosokawa is known for his knowledge of labor issues. Now that he’s in the Cabinet, he plans to focus on increasing the employment rate for young workers.

The jobless rate for people between the ages of 15 and 24 has remained particularly high, marking 9.0 percent in July against 5.2 percent for all working-age people, according to the ministry.

“We want to fully support new graduates in particular,” the 67-year-old Hosokawa said during a recent interview.

A Lower House member, he served as senior vice minister for a year before the Cabinet was reshuffled Sept. 17.

In Japan, college students start hunting for a job well in advance of graduation, as early as in their junior year. They can’t miss this period because once they graduate they are no longer eligible at most companies to apply for a job. Some even pay tuition for an extra year so they can still be officially registered as a student.

“We’re going to request that companies consider applications from people up to three years after they graduate,” the new minister pledged.

Hosokawa pointed out the government has already started paying subsidies to companies that hire such graduates.

Under the program, a monthly subsidy of ¥100,000 is paid to companies for each one they hire on a three-month trial basis. For those they later take on as regular employees, firms receive an additional ¥500,000 per person.

Companies that hire recent graduates straight away as regular workers get ¥1 million per person, Hosokawa explained.

The labor ministry has already been providing a ¥40,000 subsidy per person to companies hiring new workers on a three-month trial basis.

The new measure, however, is solely for young job seekers who recently graduated from college.

Hosokawa, a former lawyer, is an expert on labor issues. He worked on a revision to the Worker Dispatch Law that would ban sending temporary workers to manufacturing firms.

Temporary factory workers lost their job and housing at the same time when the financial crunch hit Japan in 2008, and many of them became homeless.

The revision is still under deliberation in the Diet.

Another pressing issue for the ministry is whether it can provide the full child allowance for households with children aged 15 or younger that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan promised during the 2009 Lower House election campaign.

Such households are now receiving ¥13,000 a month per child, but many experts doubt if it will be doubled as the DPJ promised given the snowballing government debts.

“I hope we can raise it closer to ¥26,000″ in the next fiscal year starting in April, Hosokawa said. “Last year, (the party) promised we will give ¥26,000 in cash.”

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has indicated the government may not be able to fully pay the promised amount, while arguing that raising the unpopular consumption tax is one option to cover growing social security costs.

Hosokawa said that he will “work thoroughly on cutting waste” before taxes are raised, adding the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has been criticized in the past for being particularly wasteful with public money.