On April 20, 2000, the Japan Federation of Employers' Associations (Nikkeiren) and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) issued a joint statement indicating their determination to grapple with problems arising from the dwindling number of children in the population. Recognizing that the rapid decline in the birthrate will significantly affect society and the economy in various ways, they called on companies to make themselves more family-friendly. Specifically, they mentioned the need (1) to expand maternity and child-care leave, (2) to introduce more flexible working arrangements such as staggered office hours and working at home, and (3) to provide reemployment schemes for workers affected by childbirth and child care.
Shortly afterwards, on April 25, a national conference on measures to deal with smaller families released a report entitled The Promotion of an Approach Acceptable to the Nation at Large. The report called for companies to provide their employees with working conditions which would allow families to balance work and child care. The conference requested Nikkeiren and management in general (1) to improve maternity and child-care leave provisions, (2) to introduce more flexible working arrangements to enable employees to continue working while being responsible for their children, (3) to avoid the relocation to inconvenient locations of employees with child-care responsibilities, and (4) to provide training programs for those who have emerged from their most demanding period of child care and are about to return to the workplace. The report also called for Rengo and unions in general to press for (1) the shortening of working hours, (2) gender equality in the workplace, (3) agreements which provide for gender equality in terms of overtime and holiday work, (4) stronger measures to prevent and remedy instances of sexual harassment, (5) a shorter working week in line with provisions of the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law, and (6) agreement on leaves to attend to the illness of children or similar emergencies.
In line with such developments, Nikkeiren and other employers' associations decided that they would, from time to time, publicize firms which are taking active steps to create conditions conducive to a better balance being struck between work and child-rearing responsibilities. They pledged themselves to examine the role of private companies in meeting social needs. The next 15 years or so was set as a target period during which they would address a range of issues which the move toward smaller families has raised.
The Ministry of Labour has instituted a certification and award system for family-friendly firms. The awards will be for firms which have put in place schemes to help their employees manage both work and child care or other nursing responsibilities at home. (See the January 2000 issue of the Japan Labor Bulletin.)
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