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KODA (Kyodo) The number of contract workers at a Sony Corp. affiliate in the town of Koda, Aichi Prefecture, accounts for more than 70 percent of those working at the production division making video and digital cameras.

The plant, Kohda Tech, established by Sony EMCS Corp. in April 2001 for efficient designing and production, has contracts with eight companies supplying contracted workers, one-third of whom are Japanese-Brazilians.

They form teams with part-time workers directly employed by the plant to engage in parts assembly and other work.

A regular employee occasionally visits the workplace, but as far as the production site is concerned, it is virtually a “regular-employee-free” zone.

Yoichi Fujioka, chief of the general affairs division at the plant, said the employment of contract workers is “mainly aimed at trying to fluidize personnel.”

He said that since the life cycles of the products manufactured is short, concentrated production is required at times when sales are brisk.

The current arrangement allows the number of personnel to be easily changed according to the volume of work, and employment costs for part-timers can also be cut, Fujioka said.

“As we don’t have useless personnel, we can expect lower personnel expenses on a long-term basis,” he said.

The shift in employment in Japan from regular to part-time workers, contract workers, and those sent by temporary staff agencies is progressing rapidly in many fields besides production.

According to a workforce survey by the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry, between January and March this year, there were 15.55 million nonregular employees, accounting for 31.5 percent of the workforce.

Among women workers, 52.6 percent were nonregular employees, it said.

Employment of nonregular workers is expected to rise because of a revised temporary personnel service law that allows temporary staff to engage in production.

Some analysts claim that this restructuring of employment practices is required to ensure that some enterprises can survive.

But the surge in the nonregular workforce, which is comprised especially of young people called “freeters” who usually live with their parents, are frequent job changers and now number 4.17 million, is casting a dark shadow over Japan’s future, others say.

Problems include a shaken social security system into which many young people cannot afford to pay, spreading nonpayment of income tax, a growing pool of single people avoiding marriage because of worries about the future and lower wages, the resulting lower birthrate, restraints on personal spending, a diminished sense of social belonging, and a lack of will to do the work.

But it’s not all sunshine on the management side, either.

Takashi Kiriku, an executive of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), acknowledged, “The trend of employing nonregular workers is incorporated in corporate labor policy.”

However, he said, “If such employment expands without any rules, technology and knowhow cannot be handed down successfully. There is an opinion favoring to apply some brakes in hiring nonregular employees.”

Kazuhiko Nakao, a director at the Research Center of the Japanese Electrical, Electronic & Information Union, said, “The use of temporary staff will be spreading in the future, but in order to protect the employment and working conditions of regular workers, we will ask the management side to create arenas of labor-management consultations on the issue.”

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