Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 19 called on three major business organizations to give workers three years’ leave after having a child, double the current maximum child leave. But his call does not reflect the true conditions that Japanese workers find themselves in.
He should instead focus on strengthening measures to make it easier for people to raise children while working.
Many company executives will likely respond to Mr. Abe’s call by saying that although it may be possible for major companies to introduce a three-year child leave, it would be difficult for their companies to do so.
There is also a fear, especially among women, that if the three-year child leave is institutionalized, many companies may reduce employment of women, or that if they take such a long leave, they won’t be able to return to their current jobs.
In addition, those employed in specialist or high-tech fields may find it impossible to take three years of child leave because their skills will become outdated. And, finally, many families simply cannot afford to go three years without a second income.
The revised law on a child and nursing care leave, which went into force in 2010, calls for improving working conditions through such measures as the introduction of shorter work hours or allowing employees to work from home while retaining their permanent status. Mr. Abe should realize that the current inflexible working conditions are what is making it difficult for people to have and raise children. He should remember that about half of Japan’s companies have yet to fulfill even current legal obligations and should exert pressure on them to comply.
Rather than introducing a long child leave, the government and companies should increase options that will offer workers flexibility in working, which will enable them to pursue job career while raising children.
In 2012, only 45.5 percent of women in the workforce were employed full-time. Mr. Abe’s call will have virtually no effect on women who are working as part-timers or dispatch workers as it is difficult for such workers to take any child leave. If they tell their employees that they are going to take child leave, they will likely be out of a job.
Male workers also should be encouraged to take child leave through the implementation of laws that would protect their jobs in their absence, and irregularly employed workers should also be given a child leave.
Some workers have to take child leave longer than a year because they cannot find vacancies in child-care facilities. Of course, the shortage of child-care facilities is widely known and causes many couples to refrain from having children. The government must make serious efforts to increase the number of such facilities.
How can people pursue both career and child rearing without stable employment and a sufficient number of child-care facilities? These are the major problems that Mr. Abe must strive to resolve. Simply calling for longer child leave will not help.