Ministry steps up labor crackdown on ‘overworked, underpaid’ university students


Staff Writer

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has stepped up its fight against black baito, or exploitative part-time jobs, amid claims more firms are underpaying and overworking university students to cut costs.

In the latest move in its monthslong campaign to crack down on the practice, the ministry last month warned industry and business lobby groups to improve the treatment of students who are often forced to work marathon shifts in difficult conditions.

Fueling concerns is the view that businesses have grown increasingly reliant on part-time workers, instead of full-time staff, in a bid to cut back on personnel costs.

Students, meanwhile, are said to often find it difficult to quit such jobs, desperate to make a living as they grapple with increasing poverty and soaring tuitions.

A ministry survey last summer of 1,000 university and vocational school students across the nation exposed legal malpractice over their part-time jobs, such as unpaid overtime and contract breaches.

In the survey, 58.7 percent of students answered that their employers hadn’t explained to them in writing the details of their working conditions.

A total of 60.5 percent, meanwhile, said they found themselves in some trouble with employers, such as being denied pay or forced to work without a break.

Among industry groups subject to the ministry’s warning are associations linked to the nation’s juku (cram school) business, such as Japan Juku Association and All Nippon Shijuku Educational Network.

In the juku industry, considered one of the most popular lines of work for university students, jobs include working as private tutors or teaching a whole class of elementary or junior high school students.

Last March, the ministry warned the cram school industry to improve its treatment of university students. But that warning, the ministry said in last month’s new edict, went unheeded, with allegations continuing that the young teachers are not properly made aware of their working conditions before they start or denied salary for the time they spend drawing up mandatory reports and answering questions from students outside classroom hours.

Such maltreatment of university students, the ministry said, could compromise their academic activities.

“Aside from meeting minimum working . . . standards, the employers must ensure that the students can achieve a balance between working part-time and pursuing their academic activities,” the ministry said in a statement released Dec. 25.

Other industry groups singled out by the ministry for criticism included the Japan Franchise Association, All Japan Supermarket Association and Japan Chain Stores Association.

The ministry also urged business and commercial groups, including Keidanren and the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry to better educate employers on the importance of students being able to fulfill their academic requirements.

  • Roy Warner

    “businesses have grown increasingly reliant on part-time workers, instead of full-time staff, in a bid to cut back on personnel costs.” But we’ve been told that most businesses are quite optimistic about the prospects for economic growth. If so, why would they be doing this?