• Kyodo

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The Diet on Friday approved a controversial bill that will allow companies to use temp staff indefinitely if they switch them every three years, defying criticism that it will confine workers to unstable jobs throughout their careers.

The bill to amend the worker dispatch law, seen as the key first step in labor market deregulation under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s growth strategy, has sparked an outcry from the opposition and labor unions that maintain the removal of a term limit will worsen conditions for temp workers. There were over 1.2 million such workers across the country as of June last year.

The legislation, which cleared the Diet with support from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition ally, Komeito, will take effect on Sept. 30.

Labor minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki said the legislation was “intended to increase the possibility for those wishing to become regular workers and improve working conditions for those planning to work as temp staff.”

The previous worker dispatch law banned firms from using temp workers for a period exceeding three years, with the exception of professions requiring expertise such as interpreters and secretaries.

The revised law removes those exceptions and allows companies to continue to tap temporary labor for the same position, on condition that different individuals are hired every three years to fill the post and that labor union opinions at the companies are taken into account.

To secure some stability in employment, the new law mandates that staffing agencies request companies that accept temp workers hire them directly after three years of employment.

If the firms refuse, the agencies must hire the workers themselves or introduce them to other firms to which they can be dispatched.

The companies using the temp workers must also provide information on vacancies for permanent positions under the law.

The revised law also requires staffing agencies to obtain government permission for operations to help ensure their quality and strengthen supervision of the industry.

The bill was initially brought before the Diet last year but was scrapped twice, once due to an erroneous description of penalties and another due to the dissolution of the House of Representatives.

In an online survey conducted by a group advocating nonregular workers’ rights, many temp staff expressed anger Friday over the law’s amendment, posting such comments as, “The new scheme is convenient for companies. Will it care about workers’ lives?” and “Stop treating us like toys.”

An interpreter in her 30s said, “It is very stressful to work without a prospect” of future employment, while another woman in her 30s said, “An LDP member said it would be easy for personnel with excellent skills to be hired as regular workers, but it will not be possible. Companies use temp workers just to cut costs.”

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