National / Social Issues | FOCUS

Will it deliver? Japan's embattled workers cast wary eye on anti-harassment law

Kyodo

A new law aimed at stopping harassment in the workplace is set to enter into force in June, but freelance workers and sexual minorities are cautious about how effective it will be in improving their situation and say individual efforts will be vital in bringing about change.

The law requires firms to take measures against harassment by people in positions of power, with a government guideline designating such acts as including physical and psychological attacks, making excessive demands and isolating workers from others.

But only large firms will initially be subjected to the law, with smaller firms set to follow in April 2022, and the government will not require companies to extend the measures to freelance workers as they are not regarded as employees.

“I have been routinely subjected to verbal abuse at workplaces,” said a 43-year-old man who has been working freelance in the video industry for over 20 years. “I have felt there is nothing I can do.”

He said his clients and people who give him instructions have also made unjustified complaints, and often tried to skip making payments.

“I can’t really do anything for fear I may not get another job offer,” he said, adding that he wants firms to face reality and strengthen measures against harassment.

Last year, a survey of freelance workers in the entertainment and publishing industries revealed that about 60 percent of the respondents had experienced harassment by people in positions of power.

A mail survey by Kyodo News, conducted on 110 between January and February, found that 48 do not plan on taking measures to prevent harassment against freelance workers, with some saying there is no need as they do not employ such workers.

Meanwhile, 53 firms said they had already implemented measures or plan to do so, with many saying they are taking measures regardless of whether workers are regular employees or on a contract or part-time basis.

“In addition to firms taking measures, each and every person who works must understand that rules for preventing power harassment have been set … to better (the environment),” said Mari Hirata, representative of the Freelance Association in Tokyo.

In addition, sexual minorities say many people’s lack of understanding about their situations has resulted in them being subject to harassment.

The government guideline says the outing of and insults about a person’s sexual orientation and gender identification are a type of “power harassment” that should be covered by the new law. They also call for people’s privacy to be protected.

The new law comes amid a rise in the number of students who record their sexual identity when applying for work, and as more companies try to accommodate their needs.

According to the Kyodo News survey, 104 of the 110 respondents said they will or plan to hold staff training to increase awareness about various types of harassment.

But just weeks before the law’s enforcement, harassment by people in positions of power against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people seems to be continuing.

Some have complained their sexual identity has been revealed against their wishes by their boss, while others say they were laughed at for “acting like a woman.”

Yuri Igarashi, a co-head of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, urges firms to hear the opinions of LGBT people in order to gain an accurate picture of the issue.

“If they can empathize and learn, they will help facilitate measures” against harassment, Igarashi said.

“The management’s stance is important,” she said. “We want them to deepen their understanding and send out a clear vision about the issue.”

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