Careful attention is needed during the re-examination of employment rules to prevent workers from getting the short end of the stick.
Under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a proposal on regulatory reform and industrial competitiveness would change rules to make it easier for employers to dismiss workers, including regular employees, by paying them proper compensation. Society could then be redesigned to make it easier for workers to find new jobs, according to the plan.
The proposal aims to reactivate the economy by shifting the labor force from industries that have lost their competitiveness to ones with promising futures. It also intends to rectify the gap between regular and nonregular employees.
Behind the argument is the recognition by employers that dismissals of regular employees are strictly regulated in Japan.
In Europe and the United States, it is common for employers to hire workers for specific kinds of work. It is understood that when the work is no longer needed, dismissals are inevitable.
But in Japan, particularly with major companies, employers hire new graduates all at once without deciding what jobs to assign them. Once they are hired, companies give the new employees jobs at their discretion and transfer them. Employees expect their employers to assign them to different jobs when their current work is no longer needed.
Based on such actual circumstances, when employees are dismissed, Japanese courts have questioned companies about their efforts to keep the workers on the payroll through such means as moving them to other jobs or transferring them to group companies.
At the same time, the practice has cultivated a climate for regular employees to be a “jack-of-all-trades” and accept long working hours as a matter of course.
But nonregular employees have been used as “adjustment valves” to stabilize the employment of regular employees. Moreover, regular employees have been protected only in big companies. In medium and small businesses, many employees have been unreasonably dismissed.
If regulations for dismissal are to be eased, more diversified working styles are needed between the two extreme forms of employment.
For example, why not create a new type of regular employee by limiting the place and type of work? Under such a system, it would be easier to win the understanding of workers toward the rule of “not setting a period of employment but dismissing employees when their work is no longer needed.” It may also encourage companies to be more positive about hiring regular employees.
In addition, rules should be established to enable nonregular employees to become regular employees. Vocational training to help workers shift to new jobs and a system to provide social security during the transition period should be improved.
The creation of such frameworks is a major premise for easing regulations on dismissal.
A report titled “Japanese-style management of a new age,” released in 1995 by the Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations (now part of the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren), positioned specialists with highly advanced abilities between career-track regular employees and nonregular employees whose style of employment is flexible.
However, efforts to make use of those highly advanced abilities did not increase, and the employment situation destabilized. If companies are allowed to simply cherry pick what they want, there is no way Japan can regenerate its economy.
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 27
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