The Labor Ministry has compiled a draft plan that may help child-rearing parents balance their work obligations with child care, ministry officials said Wednesday.

Proposing to relieve parents of long hours of overtime and to shorten their working week, the ministry has drawn up measures to promote equal employment opportunities for men and women and is seeking advice on the plan from the Women’s and Young Workers’ Problems Council, the officials said.

The measure are to be implemented over a five-year period from the current fiscal year.

The plan said that enabling employees to work and raise children or nurse the elderly at the same time is a major task in an aging society with dwindling numbers of children, and pointed out the importance of alleviating the burden on women, who generally take the responsibility for child-rearing and nursing.

It proposed introducing a system that would allow employees who are raising children to apply for exemption from overtime.

The ministry is planning to submit a bill to revise the law on parental and nursing leave to the next ordinary Diet session to introduce the system, the officials said.

The ministry will also study the viability of cutting working hours for child-rearing employees and of providing parents with days off to care for sick children, and discuss how to treat workers who return from child-care leave, according to the draft plan.

It will also discuss plans to support companies that actively promote child care and nursing leave and consider family conditions in relocating personnel, as well as encourage and facilitate re-employment of women who leave their jobs to raise children, the draft said.

To help workers who often give up child care or nursing leave due to economic reasons or pressure in the workplace, the ministry will tighten guidance for companies and promote a system that allows both men and women to take such leave.

As for companies where the gap between male and female workers is wide in terms of employment, promotion and salaries, the ministry will request that companies clarify their criteria for selecting and promoting workers.

Divorce cases to move

A judicial reform panel has agreed to propose that the government facilitate civil suit procedures by having only family courts handle divorce suits, with the added stipulation that the losing party shoulder the expense of the trial.

The 13-member Judicial Reform Council, which met for the 20th time Tuesday, plans to ask the government to take measures to resolve the issue of overlapping jurisdictions over divorce and adoption suits between district and family courts. The council also hopes to spare the winners of such suits the cost of hiring lawyers, panel members said.

The proposals are expected to be incorporated into the council’s final report to be compiled next summer, the members said.

Under the current system, a district court handles divorce or adoption suits if arbitration at a family court fails.

Many council members pointed to inconveniences caused by the involvement of two courts and the lack of specialists in family problems at district courts at a time when the number of such suits is on the rise.

Suits related to divorce, adoption and other family matters increased to 8,600 in 1999 from 6,600 in 1990.

The panel is also planning to introduce to every civil suit a system in which defeated parties will shoulder the trial cost, but it will decide on the details of the system in future meetings, the members said.

The members also discussed whether to make bonuses for lawyers streamlined and transparent, as well as agreeing that it is necessary to standardize the fees they charge.

The panel also discussed a plan to encourage the filing of suits seeking small amounts of compensation at summary courts, where rulings are handed down after one-time oral proceedings.

The council was established in July 1999.

under the leadership of the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. His successor, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, pledged at the meeting Tuesday to continue to work on judicial reform as Obuchi did.