National / Social Issues

Japan's working moms struggle to keep careers

Kyodo

Working mothers in Japan are jettisoning their careers and resorting to contract work amid laws that fail to support shorter hours long term.

The child care and family care leave law obliges employers to reduce working hours to six a day in principle for those taking care of children under 3 years old and offer them an exemption from overtime work on request.

Names of parties neglecting such obligations can be made public, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare website. But there are no penalties for companies that breach the obligation.

As such long working hours remain a major obstacle for women wanting to keep their careers on track.

“We can take child care leave without any problem. But many female co-workers left their jobs after returning to work from their leave because of overtime work,” said 36-year-old Kanako Takano.

Takano, who lives in Kawasaki, resorted to contract-based work after giving up her permanent position in February after her daughter turned 3 and she was no longer eligible for the company’s shorter working-hours program that allowed her to leave work at 4:30 p.m.

She said when she left work at the end of a regular working day at 6:30 p.m. she arrived at her daughter’s nursery school after 8 p.m.

Few nursery schools and after-school day care facilities extend their service hours beyond 8:00 p.m.

“My co-workers were working overtime and handling on-call duties at night. It was hard for me to leave the office on time every day,” Takano said.

A 41-year-old female systems engineer in Tokyo quit her job in favor of temporary work after her reduced working hours were set to be axed.

“I wasn’t able to continue my job without short work hours,” the mother of a 6-year-old boy said, adding she sometimes had to work late when problems occurred.

According to a fiscal 2015 survey by the labor ministry, about 60 percent of 3,958 businesses said that they offered shorter working hours.

However, at some workplaces where they don’t need to work overtime, some women continue to work regular hours.

Meanwhile, some companies are looking for ways to hire working mothers with business skills.

Tokyo-based staffing company b-style Inc. aims to attract women with expertise in sales and planning by offering shorter working hours.

Recruit Holdings Co. decided to employ part-time workers for its core daily operations, offering competitive salaries commensurate with job qualifications and experience.

Still, those who switch their job status to nonpermanent employment tend to receive lower incomes and career evaluations in Japan.

The trend is also a loss for companies, which are ultimately letting experience walk out the door.

Last month the government started discussions on labor market reforms so that more women can continue to work.

“There’s a perception that full-time employees ought to work overtime, and it’s important for employers . . . to change that perception,” said Naoko Ishihara, a researcher at Recruit Works Institute.

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