Tokyo gov’t employed worker over 20 years on temp contracts without benefits

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government employed a woman as a librarian for over 20 years through repeated renewals of short-term contracts, meaning the woman has not received commuter expenses or other allowances, or been entered into government employee medical insurance, it has been learned.

“We cannot determine if there is a city-employed worker who worked for 20 years on short-term contracts, but even if there is, it does not violate the law,” said a city spokesperson. However, legal experts are criticizing the metropolitan government, saying that this method of employment ignores many labor laws.

The Tokyo government’s rules on short-term employment stipulate that “a single contract will be for two months, and in the event the employee’s contract must be renewed, the continuous period of employment can not exceed six months.” To abide by these rules, the woman has been employed on two-month contracts, and in recent years she has been working for five-month stretches followed by one-month breaks before being hired again.

At least one bureau of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government employs around 600 employees on short-term contracts. It is possible there are other employees on short-time contracts effectively working as long-term employees.

One lawyer knowledgeable on labor issues says, “It is a serious problem having someone working continuously, which cannot be called ‘short-term,’ and leaving them without the protection and stability of social insurance for 20 years.”

Household income gap hit record in 2008

Japan’s household income gap reached its highest level on record in 2008, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has announced.

The so-called Gini coefficient — an indicator used to measure the inequality of income distribution — hit a record 0.5318 in 2008, up 0.0055 points from the previous survey in 2005.

The Gini coefficient ranges in value between 0 and 1, with 0 suggesting the perfect equality and 1 the maximal disparity in wealth distribution.

The average initial household income for 2008 was 4,451,000 yen, down 4.4 percent from the previous survey, while the average household income after the redistribution of national income was 5,179,000 yen — a drop of 5.8 percent from 2005.

Among working generations, the intra-generation income gap was relatively large among those aged 29 or younger, with the index remaining at 0.344 even after tax and social insurance payments.

The survey also revealed that the working generations failed to benefit from the income redistribution, with all households headed by those under 60 years paying more premiums than they received as welfare benefits.

New relief on vanished pensions / Guidelines will allow separate records to verify missing payments

A government panel has announced new support measures for victims of the “vanished pension” scandal that will make it easier for people to verify they paid pension premiums for which records are missing, it was learned Friday.

According to the new guidelines, people who have missing records for corporate employees’ pension payments will be able to have their payments verified at local offices of the Japan Pension Service if they bring in records of payments made to employees’ pension funds or company health insurance associations over the same periods.

Employees’ pension funds are a kind of corporate pension. Operated independently, they manage part of the premiums paid into the employees’ pension plan. Such funds pay a portion of pension benefits on behalf of the government, and keep records of the employees’ pension plans.

After officially deciding on the new guideline at the end of this month, the panel will study the possibility of introducing the new system as early as April.

The third-party committee also has handled pension cases that resulted from mistakes made by companies and the Social Insurance Agency, including people whose payment records were missing because they were transferred to different workplaces within their companies. There also have been cases in which the dates on which people were listed as joining and withdrawing from employees’ pension funds were off by just one day.

Foreigners get nod to skip social insurance

The Immigration Bureau announced Wednesday new guidelines for foreign residents, stating that joining the social insurance system is not a requirement for renewing or changing one’s visa status.

The bureau told The Japan Times on Feb. 1 that it had decided to change the wording of the new guidelines — which were originally drawn up last March and scheduled to take effect April 1 — to ease concerns that those without social insurance would be forced to choose between losing their visa and joining the insurance system.

The original version of the guidelines said foreign residents must present their health insurance card when reporting changes to or renewing their residential status.

The wording has now been revised to read:”In order to promote signing up for social insurance, we will ask (foreign residents) to present their health insurance card starting April 1. We will not reject renewal or change of visa status for failing to present the card.”

Immigration Bureau official Aiko Oumi said, “We just want to persuade foreigners to join the social insurance, but we heard from many people that the original version sounded like having social insurance is a requirement.”

In some cases, employers [violate the law by not enrolling] their foreign employees [in] the social insurance system to cut costs.

Health insurance nixed as visa renewal condition

The Immigration Bureau has effectively scrapped a guideline that compelled foreign residents to present health insurance cards when applying to extend visa status, it has been learned.

The new guideline, due to be enforced on April 1, states it would have requested non-Japanese to enroll in the social insurance system and present health insurance cards at the application window when reporting changes in their status of residence or when renewing visas.

But the newly revised immigration guideline also states that failing to present health insurance cards would not adversely affect decisions by the bureau on the issues of changing residence status or renewing visas. [Japanese as well as] non-Japanese are required by law to enroll in the social insurance system.

Corporate pension age ‘to rise to 65’

The government will raise the eligibility age for a corporate, defined contribution pension plan from the current 60 to 65, chiefly in response to an increase in the number of employees working past the standard retirement age of 60, sources said.

Should the eligibility age be raised for the plan–a Japanese version of the U.S. 401K corporate pension plan–the accumulation period for financial contributions would be extended, thereby increasing the amount that pensioners could receive during retirement.

To raise the eligibility age, the government will submit a bill to revise the Defined Contribution Pension Law during the ongoing ordinary Diet session, according to the sources.

There has been an increase in companies that employ workers past 60, by extending the retirement age ceiling or rehiring retired employees.

The trend is attributable to the fiscal 2006 enactment of the revised Older Persons’ Employment Stabilization Law, which requires companies to extend, in stages, the employment age of workers up to 65.

However, under the current corporate pension plan, employees who turn 60 must leave the plan. This has prompted calls to raise the eligibility age for making financial contributions to 65.

The government plans to implement the age hike in April 2012. The qualified retirement annuity system, which has been adopted mainly by small and midsize companies, is to be abolished at the end of March the same year, making it necessary to improve the corporate pension plan to accept those workers covered by the system.

The revised plan also will make it possible for workers themselves to financially contribute to the plan. Under the current system, only companies can contribute.

Social security policy should leave no one behind

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)-led administration has called for a “shift from concrete to people” — spending taxpayers’ money on people’s livelihoods, rather than public works projects. This is reflected in the fiscal 2010 budget draft, but it suggests that the government desperately secured financial resources to carry out its election campaign pledges, rather than show a clear vision on how Japan should be reformed. What will threaten people’s livelihoods are problems with medical and nursing care services in the short term, and raising children in the longer term.

Japan’s failure to find a way out of the child-care, medical and nursing-care crises is attributable largely to Japan’s traditional social security philosophy, in which fathers are the traditional breadwinners, and insurance and pension programs at the companies they work for support their entire families’ livelihood. In other words, Japanese people tend to believe that families should be responsible for raising children and nursing care, and that the national government should supplement such practices only in exceptional cases, such as those in which the fathers have lost their jobs or fallen ill.

However, single-parent families and households comprised of only elderly members are common now, while a growing number of people do not marry, forcing traditional family values to adapt.

Moreover, part-time and temporary workers now account for one-third of the entire workforce. If the government continues to address problems involving the outdated system only with deficit-covering bonds and reserve funds, taxpayers will be forced to pay for that in the end. The social security and employment systems should be reformed in response to changes in family values and Japan’s society.

New pension body opens for business

Japan Pension Service, an organization set up to succeed the scandal-plagued Social Insurance Agency, started full operations Monday with a pledge to restore public trust in the public pension system.

The names of 312 social insurance offices nationwide have been changed to pension service offices.

The entity has drawn up 10 pledges to improve customer service and restore public trust, including “Pick up the phone within three rings,” and “Don’t make visitors wait more than 30 minutes.”

Handouts listing the pledges were distributed to everybody at the opening ceremony.

Population probably shrank even more in 2009, ministry estimates

Japan’s population probably shrank further in 2009 as births fell by roughly 22,000 to about 1,069,000, the health ministry said in estimates released Thursday.

“The trend of increasing population decline is expected to continue in the future as the number of deaths rises due to the aging of the population, while the number of women at childbearing age is decreasing,” a ministry official said.

Although the national fertility rate — the number of children a woman would have if she followed the birthrate of each generation in a given year — rose for three consecutive years until 2008, past data suggest the rate in 2009 was around 1.37 — the same as 2008.

Pensions body faces tough test

Japan Pension Service, an organization set up to take over the work of the Social Insurance Agency, will start operations Friday. Though the new entity will attempt to regain trust of the public by tackling problems such as the pension records fiasco, it faces many hurdles.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama met the 13 people chosen to be directors of the new entity at the Prime Minister’s Office last Friday.

“One of the driving forces behind the shift of power [the election of the DPJ-led government] was the pension record fiasco,” Hatoyama said. “I want this entity to be one that gives priority to the interests of subscribers.”