In fiscal 1999, the Ministry of Labour instituted a system of certification and awards for "family-friendly" firms which help their employees to manage both work and child-care or other nursing responsibilities at home by enabling their employees to have flexible working conditions. Timed to coincide with the full enforcement of the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law, which added a Family Care Leave System to the existing Child Care Leave System in April 1999, the awards were founded to make the aims and contents of the new law better known and to promote the adoption of work practices which allow employees to achieve a better balance between work and the family.
The 1999 Labour Minister's Good Company Award went to Benesse Corporation (with about 1,500 employees). The firm creates and sells learning materials for children (from infants to high school students), publishes magazines concerning childbirth and child-care, and provides various child-care services. Under the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law, employees may take child-care leave until the child reaches the age of one, and may take up to three months to look after other individuals in the family. Benesse provides its employees with leave beyond the legally required minimum. Given the difficulties of enrolling children in a nursery at any time other than in April, the company allows employees to take child-care leave until the end of March after the child celebrates his/her first birthday. It also allows employees to have up to one year to look after other family members. The company also has a number of other schemes in place to make work more compatible with family-care. It has a crèhe at its Tokyo head office, a scheme for shortening working hours by one to two hours per day, a subsidy scheme to assist with expenditures on child or family care, flextime, and a re-employment scheme. Its employees, including those in managerial posts and male workers, do in fact take advantage of those schemes and services. In Benesse Corp., females account for about 60 percent of all employees, and their average tenure is now 6.3 years compared with 3.5 years 10 years ago. Their longer tenure is seen as a plus for the company.
Four other companies were given the Labour Minister's Award for Effort: Akita Seimitsu Denshi Kogyo Co., Ltd. (a precision machinery manufacturer with about 170 employees), Kikkoman Corp. (a food manufacturer with about 3,000 employees), Toto Ltd. (a ceramic manufacturer with about 10,200 employees), and Yamakataya (a retailer of various goods with about 1,400 employees). In three of these companies, all the employees who took advantage of child or family care leave schemes have returned to work afterwards. Thirty-three companies were given the Award of the Head of Women's and Young Workers' Office.
Apart from the certificate and award schemes, the Ministry of Labour is asking companies to create work environments which enable employees to combine successfully both work and family life. For example, the ministry is providing grants to firms which take initiatives to encourage workers to return to work after taking child or family care leave, and subsidies for firms which install nurseries for their employees or which take other measures to facilitate the taking of such leave.
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