Vol.36-No.11 November 1,1997
Nearly 40 percent (39.4%) of salaried workers are critical of trimming the labor force at their firms. They seem to be saying that employers "have not been making enough other changes and only take ‘trimming the fat' as the easy wayout. In December 1996 Rengo Soken (JTUC Research Institute for Advancement of Living Standards), a think tank of Rengo (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation), administered a survey to 2,000 salaried workers aged 24 to 65, to which 825 (41.3%) responded. Men accounted for 96.5 percent of the responses. Their average age was 40.9 years, and nearly half were section-chiefs. The respondents were employed mostly by firms with 300 and more regular employees.
According to the survey, around 40 percent of the respondents considered the effects of the current recession are serious. Another 40 percent considered them to be slightly serious. Furthermore, 23 percent replied that their company's total workforce had been cut by more than 20 percent since 1990; 19.5 percent answered that their workforce had been slashed by over 20 percent in their own workplace. Nearly 40 percent were critical of efforts to slim down the managerial ranks. Some expressed the opinion that: "Corporate measures to cope with the recession have largely missed the mark" (36%), that "employers avoided taking responsibility for what caused the recession" (29.3%), and "the sense of trust in the company was fading" (30.1%) (42.9 percent among those at workplaces where the workforce shrank by more than 20 percent). A large number (84.8%) felt that it was likely they would be asked by employers to leave the company to transfer temporarily or permanently to other firms before reaching their firm's mandatory retirement age. Especially in the financial sector, 24.5 percent said they will "pretty likely to be asked to go." Thus, many salaried workers are aware that radical changes are occurring in the environment around them. In other words, the idea of staying with the same company until mandatory retirement is beginning to break down. While their sense of confidence in firms is shaking, about 80 percent thought of leaving jobs in the past. However, only 6.2 percent said they will have much opportunity to leave willingly in the future. 27.2 percent said so even including those who said they "will have a little chance to do so." Asked why they were less likely to switch to another job voluntarily, the largest percent (46.9%) of those surveyed said "no other workplace in which I can fully utilize my ability," followed by those who felt uneasy about a change in their work environment (32.3%). The second group seemed to lack confidence in their own abilities. Another 27.9 percent said they would not rule out leaving corporate life to start a new career on their own. Thus, many Japanese "salarymen," are uneasy about the downsizing of the managerial stratum in their own firm, but cannot exactly break free from their dependence on the firm.
On August 30, the Ministry of Labour released the results of a survey on the work environment. The survey was administered in November 1996 to about 11,000 firms with 10 and more employees, to about 12,000 construction workers, and to about 1,000 tunnel and subway constriction sites. Replies were received from 85.2 percent of the 11,000 firms, 86 percent of the 12,000 construction workers and 92 percent of the 1,000 construction sites.
The firm survey found that to create a comfortable workplace environment, construction companies put emphasis on the adequacy of layout and work space, a boost in the firm's image, the improvement of the poor environment which will be created irrespective of the nature of work and creation and improvement of facilities for recovery from fatigue. However, in order to create a more comfortable workplace, they lack both funds and the necessary know-how controversial. Around 40 percent of the firms dealt with dangerous jobs, but 90 percent of the firms felt that their work environment was adequate, a view supported by work-environment measurements.
In the survey of the worker themselves, 34.1 percent said the workplace environment was "comfortable in overall terms," 21.9 percent said it was not comfortable, and 43.5 percent could not say either way. As for improvements they wanted, 31.6 percent wanted a comfortable resting place; 28.7 percent wished for a better layout of the machinery, tools and the work space; 28.4 percent wanted less hard or heavy work which caused physical fatigue, such as carrying heavy loads or operating with a stooping posture. Recognition of harmful or dangerous work varied widely depending on the kind of job each individual was in, but most felt it was largely inadequate, the survey said. As for the health of workers, 37.7 percent said they are healthy, and 44.9 percent answered that they are fairly healthy. About 30 percent replied that they have chronic health problems.
Finally, the survey of tunnel and subway construction sites revealed that since 1991 (when the previous survey was done) automatic gas warning devices had been increasingly installed at sites which were likely to have flammable gas. The survey also indicated that dust concentrations had been lowered as a result of better efforts being made to measure dust concentration levels and to introduce automated and robotized construction machinery.
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