|JIL Briefing on Labor Issues: The Current State of Part-time Work|
The Japan Institute of Labour (JIL) holds briefings on labor issues several times a year for foreigners concerned with labor affairs to provide a background explanation of current labor issues in Japan. People attended mainly from foreign embassies, foreign chambers of commerce and industry, and foreign news agencies. On July 19, the first briefing for fiscal 2000 focused on the current state of part-time work. The briefing was given by Sachiko Imada, Research Director at JIL.
The briefing was based on a report of the Study Group concerning Employment Management of Part-time Workers which had been established by the Ministry of Labour. Ms. Imada is a member of that group. She spoke on equal treatment for part-time workers, discussing their present situation and the challenges which policy-makers face with regard to the position of such workers.
In Japan, part-time work first came to the fore in the late 1960s. That was a time when the economy was growing at a rapid rate. Since then the number of part-time workers has increased at a consistent pace, regardless of fluctuations in the economy. In 1999, the number of workers who worked less than 35 hours per week totalled 11.38 million (of which females accounted for 7.73 million). That figure was equivalent to 21.8 percent of the number of employees as a whole. As the number of part-time employees expanded, the nature of part-time work changed substantially. Job categories for part-time workers increased in number and became more varied. As a result more part-time employees are now engaged in specialized and technical jobs or managerial posts, and there is a tendency for the tenure of such employees to become more prolonged. Part-time work now comes in various forms, including part-timers, secondary employees (jun shain), and contract employees.
As part-time work expanded both in variety and in quantity, several problems began to appear with regard to the employment of such workers. Accordingly, the Law concerning the Improvement of Employment Management, etc. of Part-time Workers (the Part-time Work Law) was enacted in 1993 to improve the treatment of part-time workers. The main features of the law were that (1) it defines part-time work primarily in terms of working hours which are shorter than usual, and (2) it clearly reaffirms that, since short-time workers are workers in the same way as ordinary workers, a whole range of legislation (including the Labour Standards Law, the Industrial Safety and Health Law, the Minimum Wages Law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, and the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law) apply to their treatment, as do the provisions for employment and social insurance, provided certain conditions are satisfied. In this sense, the Part-time Work Law set forth a fairly straightforward approach to the management of part-time workers.
The law included the supplementary provision that it should be reviewed three years after it came into effect. Hence, in 1996, the Ministry of Labour set up the Study Group concerning Part-time Work that submitted a report on policies on part-time work in 1997. The report made four recommendations:
(1) hiring notification should be made obligatory for part-time work;
(2) consideration should be given to preventing employers from easily terminating employment contracts;
(3) consideration should be given to equal treatment in terms of equal pay for equal work; and
(4) consideration should be given to adjusting working hours in relation to the upper limit of non-taxable income laid down in the tax system.
As for the first recommendation, related laws were reinforced to make them more legally binding. The revised Part-time Work Law, which came into effect in April 1999, requires employers to provide a hiring notification when employing a part-time worker. Article 15 of the Labour Standards Law (revised at the same time as the Part-time Work Law), which requires the clear statement of working conditions, added conditions apart from wages to those which should be clearly stipulated.
The second recommendation was related to the fact that most part-time workers in Japan are under fixed-term contracts. The termination of employment means that firms do not extend a contract after the expiration of a fixed-term of employment, such as three or six months. If a firm stops renewing its contract with a part-time worker after he or she has had the contract renewed several times and the worker has come to reasonably expect that the contract would be renewed again, there are now grounds for the case to be regarded as a dismissal under case law. Thus, there are already certain rules concerning the termination of employment.
The fourth recommendation involves the tax and social security systems also and thus goes beyond the normal scope of labor policy. The biggest challenge with the new legislation concerns the third recommendation which calls for equal treatment based on the general principle of equal pay for equal work. Ms. Imada referred to different interpretations of what equal treatment might mean in different countries. In the U.S., she suggested fairness may be seen as being valued the most, whereas in Europe equality is considered the important value unless there exist reasonable justifications otherwise. In Japan, fairness is seen in Article 3 of the Part-time Work Law, as a matter of maintaining balance. Here the focus is on the notion of maintaining a balance. So far, although the issue of equal treatment has been discussed in the context of legislation related to part-time work, it has been shelved as far as actual measures are concerned. The challenge that exists here arises out of two opposing opinions. One view is that because part-time and full-time work arise out of different work styles, it is impossible to argue about an equality or a gap existing between them. The other view is that the difference in their work styles cannot fully account for the wide gap which exists between the wages and other working conditions of each group of employees. While the merits of each position are being debated, the fact remains that a large and growing number of part-time workers are engaged in the same work as full-time workers for wages which are only some 60 percent of the wages received by those in the latter group.
The report of the Study Group concerning the Employment of Part-time Workers sets out views on the treatment of part-time workers with consideration being focused on the balance between them and regular workers. It recommends a procedure for realizing a balance. The report is significant in having taken a step forward towards putting the debate on equal treatment on a more concrete footing. It suggests a possible means of gauging the balance by dividing part-time workers into two groups: type A, engaged in the same duties as regular employees; and type B, engaged in different duties. It is estimated that part-time workers in type A account for 20 to 30 percent of part-time workers as a whole. The report suggests that firms should not offer these workers fundamentally different treatment and working conditions on the grounds that their working hours are shorter than those of full-time workers. The report also calls for there to be identical elements or criteria determining the wage structure and the amount of wages each employees receives and for the wage determination method for full-time and part-time employees engaged in the same duties with the same responsibilities and authority. The report allows the possibility that part-timers may still be treated differently when overtime, holiday work, transfers to different sections, and transfers to different offices or workplaces is required only of full-time workers. However, in such cases a balance between part-timers and full-timers should be achieved in terms of hourly wage rates and other similarly conceived working conditions.
The report is of significance in that it has sorted out problems and issues related to the equal treatment of full-time and part-time workers. It has also set out a proper approach to equal treatment in cases where part-time workers are engaged in identical duties as regular employees. However, its proposals provide no more than some general guidelines. In order for the balance to be achieved and generally accepted, it is hoped that individual firms, labor and management will be proactive in voluntarily tackling such issues in accordance with the peculiarities which characterize their own firm's situation or that of their industry.
|Secretariat:||International Affairs Department
The Japan Institute of Labour
3-1, Nishishinjuku 2-chome
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 163-0926, Japan
previous page next page MENU JIL News and Infomation 2000 Index