By Cory Gaskins
When visiting London two years ago, I kept being accosted by panhandlers. However, I noticed that they did not pester my companions. My Caucasian friend joked, “It’s because you‘re Japanese–they probably think you have money.” Japan has become synonymous with wealth. However, the bleak news reports this holiday season may signal the end of the “Japanese are wealthy” stereotype.
The amount of “haken-giri,” or temporary worker cutbacks, have been taking place in drastic amounts. Just this month, Nissan Motors announced that they will be cutting 2,000 temporary workers by next March. In a climate where a third of the working population are employed as temporary staff, this wave of “haken-giri” indicates that the number of homeless will increase drastically. A majority of Japan’s temporary workers live in company dormitories and without a job, forcing them to leave their home. According to a national survey conducted by The Ministry of Health, there will be at least 30,000 non-fulltime employees losing their jobs between the period of October 2008 to March 2009. “Haken Union,” an organization for temporary-employees, posted a statement on their website saying that “If we end the year like this, we will be creating a massive amount of homeless people.”
The hard-hit automobile industry is a large part of this problem. The economic downturn coincides with the end of a three-year employment contract made back in 2006—a year when automobile manufacturers changed their employment system from “contract” to “temporary.” Already dubbed as “the 2009 problem,” thousands have been left terrified about the prospect of finding another job during such hard times.
However, the bleak news doesn’t end there. Unemployed foreign residents, many of them Brazilian, has also increased. Major manufacturing companies in Shizuoka Prefecture's Hamamatsu city have announced plans to cut hundreds of temporary jobs—affecting the thousands of Brazilian workers that live there. Many of them don’t speak Japanese, further inflicting their prospects for re-employment in this industrial city.
Another group of people with struggling employment prospects are the older, middle-aged generation. A quarter of Japan’s temporary workers are over 45-years-old. Not only do they have children and aged parents to support, but their re-employment prospects are much lower than those of the younger generation.
The temporary worker culture was borne out of companies requiring specialists with a specific skill set. They were often paid more than their full-time counterparts and hopped from one company to the next. But now, they are regarded as cheap laborers that are hired to do simple tasks.
This string of “haken-giri” reinforces the criticism leveled at the current temporary employment culture, and forces the government to rethink Japan’s employment laws. Many have voiced strong opinion against this system, criticizing this form of employment as a disposable, convenient scheme for businesses, and ignores their corporate responsibility for the livelihood and wellbeing of the workers.
What we are currently witnessing is not a malfunction in the system but the result of a system destined for failure.
It is crucial that the government and corporations create effective plans to resolve this societal collapse. But any changes made will only happen after millions have greeted the New Year without a home, whilst those that can afford it take advantage of the strong yen and travel abroad.
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