The government is encouraging companies to ensure their employees take time off because it wants workers to get out and be better consumers.

In 2003, the average Japanese company employee used a record-low 8.5 days of his or her 18.0 days of paid leave, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

If the 8.8 untaken vacation days in 2001 had been used by the nation’s 46 million regular employees, it would have generated 11.8 trillion yen in economic effects, mainly in the tourism and leisure industries, according to a 2002 government simulation.

This figure breaks down into 4.5 trillion yen in increased spending for leisure activities, 3 trillion yen in bolstered consumer spending from job creation and 4.3 trillion yen in ripple effects to a variety of businesses.

Daikin Industries Ltd., an air conditioner maker based in Osaka, said that its 6,000 rank-and-file domestic employees took an average 22 days of annual paid leave last year.

“By taking days off, workers can refresh themselves, and their productivity improves,” said Tsutomu Oba, personnel chief at the firm’s Tokyo branch.

But many firms have cut back on staff amid the more than decade-long economic slump, making it difficult for the remaining employees to take holidays.

A 33-year-old who works in Osaka for a supermarket chain said his merchandise section had 10 workers five years ago, but the number is now half that figure.

He said he barely takes 10 days off out of 30 annual paid holidays.

“Many other workers in the office take it for granted not to use paid vacation,” he said. He said the firm’s employees are regarded as irresponsible if they take a long vacation.

Yasutaka Suga, head of the working conditions department at the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, said this situation typifies the lack of awareness of labor rights between both labor and management groups.

“Management does not usually consider paid vacation when assigning staff, while workers are hesitant to claim their rights” to paid leave, he said.

Given the severe employment situation, “I think for many workers, securing a job is more important than taking a paid vacation,” he reckoned.

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