Vol.38-No.4 April 1,1999
The Ministry of Labour published its annual White Paper on Working Women on January 26, 1999. In addition to reporting on employment, the white paper also focuses on the life course and re-employment of women.
The female labor force participation rate stood at 50.4 percent in 1997, with women workers accounting for 40.7 percent of the total labor force. Both figures rose for the first time in six years. During the year, the number of women employees increased by 430,000, to 21.27 million; the number of part-timers grew by 540,000, to 7.46 million. Furthermore, the rate of working women in the 30 to 34 age bracket where the dip in the long-standing M-shaped labor participation curve bottoms out stood at 56.2 percent, up 1.4 percentage points from the year before.
On life course and re-employment, the white paper underlined changes in attitudes of Japanese women toward work. While many Japanese women consider it ideal to balance work and home, most find it difficult to achieve this and to continue working due to time constraints and their physical limitations. Few job opportunities are available for women wishing to return to work, and supports for working women, such as training to help women maintain and develop their job skills while away from the labor force are seen as insufficient. However, the white paper notes Japanese companies are beginning to review their personnel management practices and are expected to hire according to professional qualification regardless of gender and age. Therefore, the need to actively utilize women who have returned to the work place was underlined in the white paper. The re-employment of women is seen as one way of coping with a population having fewer children and as a means of invigorating the nation's economy.
For re-employment to succeed, it is vital that a system be put in place which provides adequate training opportunities. It will also be necessary to establish a fair work skills accreditation system. In addition, companies should receive information on job seekers who have professional knowledge and skills. The importance of scheduling work for those with childcare and other responsibilities was also stressed. At the same time, the white paper recommends that a variety of arrangements be considered as a means of re-employing women. Dispatched workers, contract-based workers, those working at home, and the running of one's own businesses were seen as providing examples of alternative work ways. Volunteers and worker collectives were also mentioned as other approaches bringing flexibility to the way work is organized.
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