A bill to revise the worker dispatch law that the Abe administration has resubmitted to the Diet carries the potential of increasing the number of workers dispatched to businesses on a temporary status, possibly adding to the instability of conditions faced by many Japanese workers. Lawmakers need to shed light on the consequences of such a move by thoroughly debating it in the Diet and persuade the administration to rethink the revision.
The basic point of the amendment is to allow companies to use dispatched temporary staff for the same job indefinitely as long as they replace individual workers every three years. Currently the 1986 law on the dispatch of temporary workers bans the use of such workers for the same job for more than three years, except in 26 fields requiring special skills like interpretation and secretarial work. The bill was first tabled in the last regular Diet session but was scrapped due to errors found in its text.
Companies will be required to hear opinions of their labor unions when they want to use temporary workers for the same position for more than three years. But the unions do not have the power to override management decisions. The bill also makes it obligatory for dispatch agents to introduce new jobs to workers who have worked for three years in the same job at the same company or to ask the company to directly hire such workers. Dispatch agencies will also be called on to help the temporary workers hone their job skills to improve their career prospects. But it is unclear how much these measures will contribute to the job security of temporary workers.
Clearly the bill reflects corporate management’s desire to have legal regulations governing the use of temporary workers eased because such workers are easy to hire and lay off in accordance with the ups and downs in their business conditions. Since the 1990s, Japanese firms have cut back on regular full-time employees and relied increasingly on cheaper irregular workers, including part-timers and temporary workers dispatched from agencies. The revision of the law will likely accelerate this trend.
Some dispatched temporary workers with special skills may want to continue to work in their current position for more than three years but will be unable to do so if the new law passes. And boosting the ranks of temporary staff among the nation’s workforce will undermine the long-accepted principle that permanent employment should be the basic form of employment and that temporary work based on a staff dispatch contract should only be a provisional way for companies to procure labor for jobs that will only last a short time.
The Abe administration should heed the fact that many Japanese workers are already in fragile circumstances. Irregular workers now account for 38 percent of the workforce and the average salary of an irregular worker is much lower than that of a regular full-time employee. According to a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in 2013, an average regular worker earned ¥314,700 a month, while an irregular worker earned an average monthly pay of ¥195,300 to ¥216,900 for a male worker and a ¥173,900 for a female worker.
Companies relying more on temporary workforce may also make it difficult for them to firmly hand over job kills and experience to the younger generations. An expansion of the nation’s temporary workforce will be undesirable both from the viewpoint of the workers’ wellbeing and from the perspective of improving Japan’s economic strength. The Abe administration should not be swayed by the short-sighted desire of corporation management. Its move to meet business demands to increase the irregular workforce without establishing the principle of “same work, same pay” will only increase the job insecurity of many of the nation’s workers.