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A bill to revise the law governing the dispatch of temporary contract workers is now before the Diet. Although the bill is unlikely to solve all the problems faced by dispatched workers, it represents the government’s best attempt so far to protect dispatched workers, departing as it does from past goals of meeting management’s desire to increase the freedom to hire and dismiss workers as economic conditions dictate.

Under the bill, the current temp system under which registered workers go without pay when there is no work will be banned in principle in three to five years — except for 26 fields of work that require specialized skills such as interpreting. There has been criticism that the 26 fields cover unskilled work as well, including filing and office machine operations. Assignments lasting two months or less will also be banned in principle.

Dispatch of workers to manufacturing companies will also be banned in principle, in three years. Dispatches will be allowed, though, if workers are assured of receiving pay continuously for more than one year even when work is not available.

Labor unions criticize the labor ministry’s position that if repeated renewals of short-term contracts offer the prospect of workers being employed for more than one year, then dispatches of this type should not be prohibited.

A management complaint is that the bill will make it hard for small firms to find workers when they need them most during sudden or short-term booms. Works Institute Recruit Co. estimates that the bill will force 180,000 of the 440,000 workers registered with dispatch agencies out of jobs. On the other hand, dispatched workers complain that their views have not been fully reflected in the bill because a labor ministry’s panel that studied the bill did not include their representatives.

It’s possible that the Diet won’t be able to enact the bill in the current Diet session, which is scheduled to end June 16. If so, the government should consider revising the bill while taking immediate policy measures to further improve the protection of dispatched workers and ensure their employment.

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