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Companies are trying to make working conditions more tolerable for women with children in an effort to retain them as the workforce continues to shrink amid population decline and the retirement of the baby boomers.

Some are also rehiring women who leave to get married or have children, because securing dependable labor has become a high priority.

“The first year after returning to work was terrible. My child’s nursery school would call me and ask me to come because my child was running a high fever,” said one woman who asked not to be identified.

Two years ago, she returned to the publishing company where she works after taking a year off to have her child.

Her company has shorter, flexible working hours for women with children under the age of 3.

Companies must offer shorter shifts and a flextime system for women with children under 3, but they are not required to provide those options to mothers of older children, so conditions differ depending on the firm.

Many elementary school children are put in after-school care, but most of the facilities close in the evening — a problem for women who must work late.

“I want the nursery school to take care of my child until elementary school, but I will have to find a place for my child to stay after that,” the mother said. “There is no end to my worries.”

Suntory Ltd., a leading alcoholic beverage maker, this year expanded on the legal minimum and began allowing its female employees with children up to third grade to work shorter, flexible hours.

Tokyo Marine and Nichido Fire Insurance Co. implemented a similar policy in April. Previously, only women with children not in elementary school had been allowed to work the shorter, flexible hours. But the age limit for children has been extended to the end of the third grade, allowing those mothers to shorten their working day up to three hours.

According to a labor force survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, 75 percent of female workers in their mid to late 20s and 74 percent of women in their mid to late 40s wanted to continue working. Only 62 percent of women in their early 30s — a time when many women have children — said they did.

In Europe and North America, 80 percent of female workers have bachelor’s or graduate degrees, compared with 70 percent of women in the Japanese workforce.

“We would like to make use of women in their 30s with higher educational backgrounds,” one business executive said.

Sharp Corp. introduced a rehiring plan for women in April, leave for women receiving fertility treatment, and child-raising loans of up to 5 million yen.

Nissan Motor Co. has a program that allows women to take “prechildbirth holidays” because women are legally entitled to six weeks maternity leave before the birth of their children.

The temporary staffing industry is also attempting to bring women back into the workforce.

Fuji Staff Inc. is trying to recruit mothers by offering baby-sitting services or reimbursements for leaving children in outside care when they come in for interviews.

“A growing number of firms are employing people temporarily for shorter working hours,” said Yuko Tsutumi, who is in charge of the program. “These companies cannot pick and choose their female workers. They have to conform to the different conditions under which the women want to work.”

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