Only two companies have been approved to receive government subsidies for introducing work-share programs since the subsidies were introduced in June, public labor officials said Thursday.

The work-sharing system allows two or more workers to share one job. Employees simply work shorter hours and receive less pay and fewer benefits.

In order to receive any subsidies, companies must hire workers between the ages of 45 and 59 who have lost their jobs through restructuring or other reasons. Other conditions also apply.

Employers who plan to introduce the system must apply with a concrete plan to their local labor bureau. Once approved, they will receive a one-time payment of 300,000 yen to 1 million yen, depending on their size.

Additional subsidies of 150,000 yen to 300,000 yen per person are granted when the number of hired jobless workers increases.

The names and other details about the two firms, both small manufacturers, one in Fukushima Prefecture and the other in Kyoto Prefecture, have been withheld to allow them to smoothly introduce the work-sharing system.

A public labor official blamed the severe economic situation for the lack of applications.

“The situation is so severe that it allows few employers to think of introducing the system,” the source said.

To introduce work-sharing, employers need to obtain an agreement from their labor unions, which also slows down the application process.

An official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry also said many employers are not aware of the subsidies.

The government plans to provide the subsidies to about 3,000 companies over the next three years. But the plan may not be carried out as smoothly as expected due to the slow pace of applications.

Amid the prolonged economic slump and increased unemployment, the government agreed with labor and employer representatives in March to set the subsidies. It began accepting applications from employers in June.

The number of applications submitted was not available.

Push for job security

The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) suggested Thursday it would again forgo attempts to set a basic wage hike standard during the spring annual wage negotiations and would shift its focus toward demands related to job security and working conditions.

Rengo executives met Thursday morning in Tokyo, where the confederation’s leaders presented the proposal to the central committee.

Should the proposal be approved, it would be the second straight year for Rengo to adopt the approach.

Citing Japan’s persistent economic and employment problems, Rengo Chairman Kiyoshi Sasamori sought the support of senior union members over the proposal.

“Instead of labor negotiations focusing on wage increases, I want to stake the Rengo movement on the employment problem, how to establish better working conditions in general (including for part-time workers and the jobless ranks),” Sasamori said.

Japan’s largest union group plans to hold a rank-and-file meeting in late October to discuss the proposal before making a formal decision in November.

The plan is expected to be supported by most members of the Rengo central committee.

In June, Rengo leaders agreed that demanding a uniform wage increase was no longer an effective wage-negotiation tool.

A Rengo policy paper states that member unions must change their wage negotiation strategies.

It states that, instead of focusing on pay hikes at major corporations, member unions should make demands for job security and improved working conditions for employees at small companies and for part-time workers.

Rengo will demand that companies guarantee minimum salaries for part-time workers at the same levels as those given to 18-year-old high school graduates.

Rengo said it also aims to eliminate overtime as an employment-boosting measure.