Subject: [cwj 24] Joblessness Breeds Mid-life Anxiety
From: Amit Srivastava <>
Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 14:27:20 -0700
Seq: 24

LABOUR-JAPAN: Joblessness Breeds Mid-life Anxiety
By Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, May 19 (IPS) - Tadashi Saruki, a 53-year-old former worker at a
large apparel company, says he never washed dishes at home, but that's all
he does now at his new restaurant.

"I quit work after 30 years, because I was facing a huge pay cut and even
the loss of my job. Now, I have to face an uncertain future and life is
tough," he explains.

Saruki, along with his wife who is the chef, started Oden Bar, a little
eatery specialising in a traditional Japanese fish stew, with the early
retirement allowance he got from the company. The couple work till 2 a.m.
each day and have only Sundays off.

The uncertainty that Saruki feels is common to many today in Japan's
economy, which the government has been trying to revive economic activity.

But it tends to be more prevalent among men, who have a higher unemployment
rate in this country, and especially those in middle-age bracket, whose
jobs are at risk not only because of economic difficulties but
restructuring that upsets that traditional work culture of lifelong

Last month, the government's Management and Coordination Agency reported
that the monthly jobless rate for men rose to a post-war high rate of 5.2
percent in February, making an increase for the second straight month.

Men now make-up 2.17 million, or 62 percent, of the 3.49 million Japanese
unemployed by the end of March.

The unemployment for women, which is also growing, stands at 4.6 percent as
of February. Japan's joblessness rate hit a post-war high of 4.9 percent
for the month of February, say government statistics.

"The reason why there are more unemployed men than women reflects the
peculiarity of the Japanese employment system," says Hisashi Yamada, a
labour specialist at the Japan Research Institute, a private think tank.

"The Japanese labour market is based on the seniority system that has given
priority to male workers who are expected to devote more time to the
company," he says, which means that when recession and unemployment hits,
the men who make up bulk of full-time workers, are affected first.

"As a result the first to go in a recession are the men," Yamada explains.

Women, while comprising 49 percent of Japan's labor force, work mostly as
part-timers. In 1999 for instance, female workers in their fifties made up
almost 26 percent of part-time workers while men in the same age bracket
comprised 7 percent.

Based on social traditions here, analysts point out that women make them
responsible for the family while their husband are the bread winners. That
is why, says Yamada, women have not been as badly hit.

The system is such, for example, that banks only extend Japanese men house
mortgages if they have full-time jobs. Tax laws also exempt women from
paying taxes as long as they hold part-time jobs that pay them far less
than their husbands.

Official figures indicate that Japan's tough labour situation over the
years has swept away jobs held by men in their fifties and sixties, the
hardest hit group among male workers.
The Management and Coordination Agency reports that males comprised 73
percent of the 1.15 million people who lost their jobs in February, due to
bankruptcies and corporate restructuring. Majority of them held positions
in middle management.

Statistics complied by the Labour Ministry for February show that the
jobless rate for men increased in all age brackets, climbing 0.7 percent
among those aged 55 to 59 and rising 0.4 percentage points to 7.1 percent
for those between 55 to 64 years of age.

"During past recessions the trend has been similar to the current
situation-older men losing jobs. But this time, things are serious because
the recession is dragging on and the Japanese economy is entering a new
phase by embarking into information technology. As a result it is difficult
for older men to find new jobs," says Yamada.

Indeed, the Labour Ministry findings support this new trend.  Jobs in the
manufacturing industry and service sector, where men have traditionally
been full-time employees, has fallen around 3 percent since September 1996.

The highest increases have been seen in the transport and
telecommunications sector by 2.2 percent. The lingering recession, say
experts, has been a catalyst for sweeping changes in the Japanese
employment market as more companies switch to a merit-based system from the
traditional life-time pay.

"More companies are looking for contract workers as a way of cutting costs.
Now male workers are facing this system which does not guarantee them paid
vacation, pensions, or health insurance," says Ippei Torii, spokesman for
the Tokyo Managers Union, a labor union set up 10 years ago to support the
growing number of middle-aged men who were losing their jobs.

Torii is spearheading a new movement which is calling for part-time jobs to
include these guarantees as well.

"It's a struggle to get companies to accept these conditions.  But we are
negotiating because this is the only way we can protect the interests of
workers, both male and female, who will be increasingly finding only
part-time employment," explains Torii.
Indeed, some middle-aged men find themselves caught in a bind- between not
having full-time work, being forced into part-time work that is insecure,
or going in their own business, despite the smaller income it means.

For instance, 17 unemployed members of the Tokyo Managers Union recently
set-up a bar-cum-restaurant in downtown Tokyo in a bid to hire middle-aged

Incomes average 200,000 yen (1,840 U.S. dollars) per month, around
one-third of the paychecks they got when they held company jobs.

"The going is tough for these men. But at the same time they hesitate to
take on part-time work that they could lose any time," explains Torii.

Anxiety over the future and the changes in Japan's work environment are
also talking a social and mental toll, experts say.

Mental health workers say men comprise almost all their clients these days.
Many of them are seeking treatment for depression as a result of losing
their jobs, or constant anxiety that they might be without employment in
the near future.

Doctors say an increase in suicides among middle-aged men- who accounted
for 8,400 out of a total of 11,300 cases involving people between 50 to 60
years of age reported in 1998 -- is due to the economic slump that has
caused the loss of jobs.

Men in this age group say that losing a job takes away their purpose for
living. "I feel terrified and helpless for the first time in my 25 years of
working in sales at my company, because I wonder when I will be fired. I
have to pay my mortgage and look after the kids," says a company employee
who asked not be named. (END/IPS/ap-hd-pr/sk/js/00)

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

Amit Srivastava
Climate Justice Coordinator
Transnational Resource and Action Center (TRAC)/ Corporate Watch
P.O. Box 29344, San Francisco, CA 94129, USA
Tel: 1 415 561 6472  Fax: 1 415 561 6493
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