The global recession that started in autumn last year has dramatically highlighted the vulnerability of temporary and other nonregular workers at this time of economic contraction.
In response, the government started reviewing the worker dispatch law at the Labor Policy Council, which advises Akira Nagatsuma, the minister of health, labor and welfare. The council has come up with an outline of a bill to revise the law.
According to the outline, the revision would, in principle, ban companies from using registration type of recruiting, in which employment contracts are drawn up only when there are jobs for dispatched workers. The ban would not be applied to 26 job categories that demand a high level of skill, such as interpreters. The ban would not apply to aged dispatched workers as well.
Supplying haken dispatched workers for manufacturing jobs would be allowed only for positions for what is essentially regular work in which individuals have a reasonable chance of winning a relatively long-term labor contract with the companies that recruit them. This is a key issue because of the large number of dispatched workers in manufacturing who lost their jobs after economic conditions slid and manufactures moved to trim their payrolls.
Supplying temps for day-labor jobs–the most unstable form of employment–would also be prohibited, except for limited categories. The revision would also require companies to stop treating subcontractors as effectively dispatched workers who are subject to company supervision. If such practices are found, the new regulation will regard those firms as having hired these workers.
There is strong opposition to the proposed steps within the business community. Critics say banning the registration system to recruit dispatched workers and the supply of temps on a daily basis would raise unemployment by making it harder for companies to use haken workers.
Others argue that tightening the regulation on supplying dispatched workers to manufacturers would prompt more companies to shift production overseas, causing further jobs losses. These arguments, however, don’t present a strong case for allowing nonregular workers to bear the brunt of the economic downturn as people who can be brought in or laid off more easily than regular employees.
Past revisions to the worker dispatch law have basically eased the regulations on the dispatched-worker industry to promote labor liquidity. The new proposals are significant in that they would change policy by protecting workers.
The envisioned change, however, would leave some problems unsolved. Even the hiring of people on a dispatched basis–for less than a year, for instance–could be regarded as almost regular employment. Workers under subcontracts who are treated effectively as temps would be regarded as employees directly hired by the companies that use them, but only for the period of their contracts with the companies that supplied them. This could lead to a situation where companies that use temps would not take sufficient responsibility for the well-being of these individuals. The bans on the registration-type recruitment of dispatched workers and the supply of temps to manufacturers would take effect only three to five years after the revised law is proclaimed.
The Diet should discuss these and other related issues, including arguments by employers, during the regular session to be convened in January. The revision of the law would not address all the problems concerning nonregular workers. There is still a basic problem facing the government and society as a whole.
The wide disparity in incomes between regular and nonregular workers due to the lack of recognition of dispatched and other nonregular positions as legitimate options to increase diversity in workstyles has become a major issue. The principle of the same pay for the same work is the norm in Europe. It may be unrealistic to expect an early introduction of this principle in Japan. But serious efforts should be made to establish this rule.
There should be limits to the renewals and periods of contracts with nonregular workers to reduce the benefits for companies of depending on such workers as a buffer against a downturn.