• Kyodo

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Japanese companies are working to assign intellectually disabled workers key positions as they seek to create more diverse workplaces.

Dai-ichi Life Challenged Co. introduced a system in 2011 enabling people with disabilities to take leadership positions as a means of boosting their morale.

The Tokyo-based company has promoted three such workers to section chiefs under the system.

Satoshi Tsunoda, 32, is one of the three who oversee a total of 22 workers.

Tsunoda has headed the section in charge of shipping documents since last April.

“I am happy because what I am doing has been highly appreciated,” he said.

“One of the duties assigned to me is ensuring that employees working under me can finish their work on time. I was determined to overcome burdensome and challenging assignments.”

At Dai-ichi Life Challenged, a subsidiary of major life insurer Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co., 159 disabled people are currently employed, representing 70 percent of its total workforce.

“The parent company employs people with different kinds of disabilities. At the subsidiary, disabled people are more broadly employed,” said Dai-ichi Life Challenged President Toshihiko Sonobe.

A mutual support system at Dai-ichi Life Challenged for people with disabilities is intended to cover a person’s absence due to illness with other workers, according to Sonobe.

Dai-ichi Life Challenged was designated by the government as a company friendly to disabled workers after meeting a set of conditions, including employing at least five disabled people and ensuring they make up at least 20 percent of its total workforce.

As part of a national quota system for employing people with disabilities, firms with at least 50 employees must ensure that disabled workers account for at least 2 percent of their workforce. Incentive money is paid to companies that meet the target, while those who fail face being fined.

However, a company with a subsidiary designated as disabled friendly can combine the total number of disabled workers at the unit with the number of disabled workers at the parent.

As of June 1 last year, there were 448 subsidiaries in Japan with this designation.

Noriyuki Mine, a 25-year-old with intellectual disabilities, works for one such subsidiary — FPCO Ducks Co., a manufacturer of disposable food containers and trays based in Nankoku, Kochi Prefecture.

Mine became an assistant section chief at the company’s factory in Yachiyo, Ibaraki Prefecture, in April last year. “My job is supporting workers who cannot perform their duties smoothly,” he said.

Previously, the factory used a machine for tray sorting but the machine occasionally made errors.

The company then switched to manual sorting by intellectually disabled workers, a step resulting in fewer errors and improved productivity.

At present, 374 people with disabilities are employed by FP Corp. Group, which owns FPCO Ducks, representing 14.56 percent of the group’s total workforce.

“Promotion and position-linked allowances are necessary for people with disabilities as well,” a company official said.

The number of disabled people working at private companies has continued to increase in Japan, standing at 470,000 at present.

But their involvement in mainstream duties is rare and in many cases, companies employ people with disabilities just to meet the 2 percent obligation.

Some companies, however, are striving to dispel the general perception in the corporate sector that intellectually disabled people cannot be effective employees.

Nationwide bakery and cafe chain operator Swan Co. is striving to develop the potential of people with disabilities.

“There are many fields where disabled people can work effectively once they are accustomed to work procedures,” said Yukio Matsumoto, president of Swan, which was set up by Yamato Transport Co. in 1998.

Matsumoto said people with disabilities worked the cash register and took orders at cafes.

“They have the potential to work in other fields,” he added.

Employing people with disabilities may become part of companies’ diversity strategies, according to Junji Miyahara, who heads a division at Toray Corporate Business Research tasked with promoting business diversity and employees’ work-life balance.

“Leaving certain tasks to intellectually disabled workers enables other workers to concentrate on more challenging work,” Miyahara said.

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