Temp staffer wins maternity leave, via union

Chunichi Shimbun

When female nonregular workers become pregnant, employers often refuse to renew their contracts. However, a Japanese-Brazilian woman in the Tokai region stood up and joined a local labor union to protest the practice.

Currently on child-care leave, Michelle Rosa Egidio, 35, happily looks into the face of her 4-month-old daughter, Hayane, every time she moves her legs.

But Egidio, a resident of Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, and her union had to go through a long negotiating process with her employer to win child-care leave.

“Because I have been working for the factory for a long time, I thought it was unacceptable that the company would not allow my child-care leave,” Egidio recalled.

Egidio first came to Japan at the age of 19, registering at a temporary staffing agency. But for the past 14 years, she has been “on dispatch” to a printer factory in Mie.

Under the Temporary Staffing Services Law, manufacturers are allowed to hire temporary help for up to three years. After that, companies have to directly hire the worker if they want the person to stay on.

But according to the General Workers Union Mie Prefecture, which Egidio belongs to, her staffing agency and the factory masked her dispatch as contract work, which allows her to work longer than three years without the obligation to hire her directly.

When her three-year contract expired last July, the company hired her as a contract worker. Immediately after that, however, she found she was pregnant.

The law says that child-care leave can only be granted to workers who have been employed for more than a year.

Although Egidio has been working at the same factory for 14 years, there was a high risk she would be fired as her employer had recently changed.

Given these circumstances, she joined the union.

On March 22, when the union was still bargaining with the company on her behalf, she gave birth to a girl.

As a result, the company effectively admitted she had been working there for a long time and agreed to offer paid and unpaid leave until the end of June, when she would have the right to take child-care leave from July through next March 21.

“For Egidio, it would have been difficult for her to keep making ends meet if she hadn’t been able to obtain child-care leave,” said Hojo Hirooka, the union’s secretary general. “Many workers are probably experiencing the same problem but are letting the matter drop.”

In Japan, where 70 percent of regular and nonregular female workers quit their jobs when having children, it is difficult for temp workers, whose contracts are renewed on a short-term basis and can be easily replaced, to obtain maternity and child-care leave, said Shigeru Wakita, professor of labor law at Ryukoku University.

“Since more than half of female workers are nonregular workers, it is necessary to create an environment where they can (work and) bring up children to tackle the falling birthrate,” said Wakita, chairman of the national forum for winning rights for nonregular workers.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by local daily Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published July 29.