The revised Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) came into effect on April 1, 1999.(1) The revisions primarily affected two facets of the legislation. With regard to discrimination against females in recruitment, hiring, assignment and promotion, employers were formerly required to endeavor to provide equal opportunity. The revised EEOL clearly prohibits discriminatory treatment of women in these categories.
Second, the previous version of the EEOL incorporated the aim of improving the welfare of female workers. This aim has been removed and the law now focuses solely on prohibiting sexual discrimination. Together with this, revisions to the Labor Standards Law also came into effect on the same day.(2) They abolished the protective provisions for female workers in terms of overtime, rest-day work and night work.
The practical effect of these revisions on enterprises will be substantial. First, it is now illegal to publish job advertisements which specify, for example, females only or set the number of males and females to be hired. This means that employers are prohibited from advertising job openings with job titles such as waitress, which have clear gender designations built into the term. Companies violating the law will be punished by having their names officially released. Accordingly, existing recruitment magazines for women and the Public Employment Security Offices for Women have broadened their activities to incorporate the interests of men as well.
The revised laws, however, have created some snags. For example, some enterprises have workplaces exclusively for women, but are now being told to hire men. For female job seekers, on the other hand, it is now more difficult to judge whether or not the enterprises they approach actually intend to employ women.
Another change is that mediation procedures concerning discriminatory treatment can be commenced without the agreement of the employer. On April 1, 27 employees applied for mediation involving three companies, including Japan Air Lines and Sumitomo Chemical Industries. Previously, mediation procedures could only be started with the agreement of both labor and management, so that in 13 years only 106 employees from 14 enterprises had applied for mediation.(3) Only one of those cases involving one enterprise and seven employees was ever mediated.
Finally, employers are now obliged to pay due attention to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. Enterprises are busily devising measures to deal with this issue, and A Handbook for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment was published on February 15 by Nikkeiren (Japan Federation of Employers' Associations). It sold 80,000 copies during the first six weeks.
(1)For more details on the revisions, see Special Topic in the April 1998 issue of the Japan Labor Bulletin.
(2)For more information on the Labor Standards Law, see Special Topic in the November 1998 issue and JIL News and Information in the May 1999 issue of the Japan Labor Bulletin.
(3)See also First Ministry Proposal for Sex Bias Case, in the May 1995 issue of the Japan Labor Bulletin.
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