Shift to weekend work ups day care crunch

Firms' bid to save weekday power puts parents in bind

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

The nuclear crisis in Fukushima continues to extend its reach months after the March 11 disaster, with the latest repercussion hitting working parents across Japan who will be forced to work on weekends to save electricity but when day care centers are normally closed.

Prompted by urgent requests from those parents, major manufacturers nationwide planning to operate on weekends are scrambling for solutions so their employees can work without worrying about their children.

“We are in a rush to make it on time . . . but we’ll probably need to make adjustments as we proceed,” Takeshi Kawakami, a Hitachi Ltd. spokesman, told The Japan Times.

The electronics giant is busy preparing to set up day care centers in some of its offices, possibly as many as 10, within the month.

These nurseries will take care of children while their parents work on Saturdays and Sundays from July to September.

The rush is a result of the nuclear crisis chain reaction. Damage to the reactors in Fukushima resulted in other nuclear power plants failing to resume operations after routine inspections due to local opposition.

The reduction in the electricity supply will be keenly felt as the summer sun begins to roast the archipelago.

To avoid major blackouts, some companies like Hitachi have volunteered to halt factory operations during weekdays when electricity demand is high and instead work during the weekends.

Hitachi, which is planning to shut down some of its factories in eastern Japan on weekdays, has approximately 2,000 employees who leave their children at day care centers on a daily basis.

In addition to setting up temporary day care facilities at its offices in Tokyo and Ibaraki and Kanagawa prefectures, the company is providing monetary assistance to those who opt to leave their children with public or private nurseries.

The cost of providing such assistance is expected to reach as much as ¥300 million over two months, Hitachi’s Kawakami said.

The company is scheduled to sign up with private day care centers, but as of Thursday had yet to determine how many children will need the service.

Kawakami said the contract won’t be signed until next week and the whole program will be launched with very short preparation.

“Some locations need the facilities by next Saturday. We may be barely in time,” he said. “As a company we are in the position to ask our employees to work during the weekend, and we want to avoid having them shoulder any extra expenses.

“We are also being careful not to spoil their work-life balance,” he added.

Meanwhile, parents working in less fortunate circumstances must seek help from other sources.

Earlier this month, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association revealed plans among its member firms to halt factory operations on Thursdays and Fridays and work instead during weekends.

Despite the industrywide plan, some automakers, including Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co., said they may operate on Thursdays and Fridays if production falls short of demand.

Still, the move has left Japan’s motor capitals, such as Aichi and Hiroshima prefectures, needing to make major shifts.

“We are likely to have at least a dozen children who will require nursery care on Sundays,” said a municipal official in Kaita, Hiroshima Prefecture. Hiroshima is the base of Mazda Motor Corp., and Kaita is home to many auto parts factories.

According to the official, there are seven day care centers in the city, run by the city and the private sector, but only one will be providing services on Sundays. About three workers will be asked to show up to work. Parents will not be asked to pay additional fees, but the city hopes the central government will provide some financial assistance.

“We are preparing so that children will be taken care of in a safe environment,” the Kaita official said.

Another key area hit by the sudden demand for day care centers is Aichi Prefecture, home to Toyota Motor Corp.

The prefecture normally has 35 day care centers run by local governments providing services on Sundays, but due to rising demand the number will increase to at least 88 this year. That will make it possible to provide care for 5,081 children.

They are also scheduled to provide assistance to families with children in lower grades of elementary school by holding group activities on Sundays where parents can leave their kids.

The Aichi city of Toyota is also planning to hold such group activities on Sundays, but since it did not have time to hire additional officials, it had to ask existing staff to work on shifts.

The cost is mounting.

“Regarding day care on weekends, we must ask the central government for financial assistance and backup,” Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said earlier this month. “We will make requests as soon as possible.”

To cope with the rising need for day care facilities open Sundays, JP Holdings, a major day care outfit based in Nagoya, said it plans to hire 30 nursery staffers on a temporary basis.

“Staff working on weekends are not always the same people,” said JP Holdings President Hiromu Yamaguchi. “Children won’t be used to them, so we need well-experienced staff compared with those working on weekdays.”

“All of eastern Japan is being affected by the situation,” Hitachi’s Kawakami said, touching on how both the private and public sectors are scrambling to keep factories, companies and industries in operation despite the events following the March 11 disaster.

“There is not much we can do about it.”

Information from Kyodo added