• SHARE

It’s shuntō season — the time of year in Japan when unions come out to fight for salary hikes for their members. Wage increases offered by companies so far average 1.81%, or ¥5,563, per employee, according to the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, aka Rengo. That would be the lowest average hike since 2014, apparently tempered by the effects of the pandemic, although the negotiations aren’t over yet.

The coronavirus crisis has triggered an explosion in households applying for emergency loans from the state, rising 170-fold from 10,000 a year before the pandemic to 1.7 million now, after the government widened eligibility to cover anyone who has seen a drop in earnings due to the pandemic.

But it seems many social welfare councils are struggling to keep up, or are responding by doing their best to restrict such loans, Jiji reports, even though the whole point of the change was for anyone suffering in the current crisis to be able to get interest-free loans to cover falling income, few questions asked.

A support group for people in need holds consultations for those affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, at a park in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, in December. | KYODO
A support group for people in need holds consultations for those affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, at a park in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, in December. | KYODO

In the Media Mix column, Philip Brasor takes a closer look at how Japan’s media outlets are covering the issue. As Tokyo Shimbun reports, with examples, welfare offices have been weaponizing the stigma that is still associated with asking for support from the state to discourage loan applicants for years, such as by threatening to call applicants’ family members.

Many of the staff dealing with these applications are themselves in precarious employment, Brasor notes. Between 2005 and 2016, the number of civil servants who were contract or temp workers increased by over 40%, with many of them being front-line employees.

While the shift to nonregular employment is often sold in terms of increasing flexibility for staff, the reality often jars with the rhetoric. For example, the Chunichi Shimbun reports that while side jobs are now encouraged at many firms — ostensibly so workers can grow their skills — most of those working two jobs are doing so simply because they can’t get by on just one.

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)