Subject: [cwj 130] Corporate Changes Throw Labour into Turmoil
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2000 19:05:28 -0800
Seq: 130

Corporate Changes Throw Labour into Turmoil

By Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Nov 22 (IPS) - His work can get tedious and at times, 31-
year-old bureaucrat Hirofumi Sato finds himself thinking of his
former job in the private sector. But he says he snaps out of such
moments quickly, and insists that his decision to switch careers
three years ago was a wise move.

''At least, for the moment, government workers do not have to
worry about being fired,'' he says. ''That's why I made the change
even though my former job was more exciting.''

Sato, in fact, is right in considering himself fortunate. All
over Japan, more and more workers are ending up unemployed, and
labour experts predict the situation to worsen in the coming

The country's unemployment rate already reached a record high in
September -- 4.7 percent, or 3.2 million people -- according to
the Management and Coordination Agency. But labour experts say the
''real'' unemployment rate is much higher, reaching as much as 10
percent in this country of CXCC people.

''Japan's unemployment figure is grossly understated because it
reflects only the number of people who report they have no jobs,''
says Susumo Saito, director of the Trilateral Institute Inc., a
private economic think tank.

He adds,''It does not take into account the large number of job
seekers and the category where people have just given up hope for
re-employment because the situation is so hopeless.''

Official statistics show that there are about 9.4 million
Japanese currently looking for work. Saito says this number at
least must be added to the country's official unemployment figure
if the real situation is to be reflected.

The government acknowledges that the Japanese job market can take
only half the number of people seeking work. According to experts,
corporate restructuring brought on by the prolonged recession and
globalisation is mainly to blame for the country's dismal labour

In a country where lifetime employment used to be a given,  such
conditions have proved to be a particularly heavy psychological
burden for many people.

Managers Union chief Hiromitsu Yamazaki notes, for example,
that there are hundreds of middle-aged men who suffer from
depression but are not counted as unemployed because they are too
sick to register as such.

Those still punching in the clock are also under stress as they
worry over impending unemployment or try to cope with an ever
increasing workload.  In truth, a Labour Ministry survey conducted
in August indicates that two-thirds of those who are still
employed fear they may be out of work soon.

Many Japanese workers also say they are now spending more hours --
five to six on average -- on unpaid overtime as they scramble to
keep up with the restructuring moves in their companies.

Experts say a rise in 'karoshi', or death from overwork, can
only be expected to rise from the current 10,000 cases recorded
annually by the Labour Ministry.

Saito says suicides stemming from work-related problems on the
increase as well. Last year, Japan recorded 33,048 suicides, a
sharp rise from the 21,346 posted in 1990. Statistics show that
more than 74 percent of the men over 40 who took their lives last
year did so because of work problems.

Meanwhile, Yamazaki says that Japanese society will also soon
have to deal with a growing gap between workers with steady but
small paychecks and part-time and contract workers who bring home
substantial sums.

''You can see the trend even now where financial liberalisation
has helped develop profit-driven securities companies, which
employ a younger sectorthat receives double or treble the salary
of the average worker who has put in 20 to 30 years for his
company,'' he says.

In truth, Mayumi Ofuku of the Electrical Workers Union says the
electronic industry has recorded the biggest changes in the last
few years as Japan shifts away from ''traditional'' manufacturing
to the IT (information technology) industry.

It is the IT industry that is moving away fast from salaried
workers and taking on younger contract workers, says Ofuku.

Salaries in this sector depend on innovation rather than the
seniority of the employees, he points out, adding that the trend
is bound to have an impact on how unions deal with management.

At present, Japanese unions, which represent about 20 percent of
the total number of the workforce, still use the method of
collective bargaining in negotiating salaries. But Ofuku says
tactics and focus will have to change as workers develop separate
contracts with different companies.

He says unions will then have to focus on individual needs, and
even the old ''spring campaign'',  when unions come together to
demand higher salaries, will be replaced with demands for better
working conditions.

Ofuku predicts such demands would include less overtime, better
part-time conditions and paid holidays. (END/IPS/ap-lb-if/CCB/00)

Origin: Manila/RIGHTS-JAPAN/

       [c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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