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Japan's service industry reeling from part-time worker crunch

Image: iStock/daruma46

It's no longer news that the worker shortage, particularly among small- and medium-size businesses, has become severe. But now the crunch has spread to part-time workers, which has clearly become a seller's market. And lately, there's been a surge in specialized apps to fill the gaps.

Weekly Playboy (May 6) approached a number of business managers to inquire how they are coping. Walking through Shinjuku's adult playground Kabukicho, an observant person will notice that signs posted in the windows of many restaurants seeking part-time workers have become unusually conspicuous. One reads, "Even three hours on one day a week will be OK"; another, "We don't mind people with piercing, tattoos, beards or nail art." And another: "All-you-can-eat meals for workers."

It's never been a better time than now to be a part-time worker. Hourly wages presently run between ¥1,200 to ¥1,400 -- above Tokyo's set minimum wage of ¥1,111.

The Chinese proprietor of a low-budget izakaya (Japanese-style pub) tells the magazine, "Even when we raised the hourly rates, we couldn't get anyone -- Japanese or Chinese or Vietnamese -- to come work here. On some days we've been obliged to stop late-night operations on weekdays, and on some weekends we've had to rope off our upstairs floor and even limit the number of customers."

"Before the COVID pandemic most of our workers were students or freelancers, but when we operated under shortened hours we kept the part-timers to a minimum.

"Then from May of last year the COVID pandemic tapered off and we went back to full operations, and tried to get former workers to come back, but not many did -- maybe only about half of the number who'd worked for us prior to the pandemic."

The skewed labor situation has also given birth to so-called "ghost employees," such as those who are paid just sit in the passenger seat of a truck out on deliveries, for which they are paid ¥1,300 an hour.

"There are lots of places to make easy money," said one "ghost." "Some house cleaning services will pay ¥5,000 for three hours, which I receive even if I finish the job in one hour."

Once you've worked at cozy places like these, the writer quips, you'll never go back to ordinary part-time jobs.

"At businesses located inside the JR Yamanote loop line in Tokyo, the shortage of part-time workers has become severe," says the aforementioned izakaya manager. "On weekends, about half of them come as tanpatsu (single-time) workers.

"We just pay the introduction fee to the service operating the app. Timee Inc (the name of one such service) takes 30% of the worker's remuneration," he said, adding, "Calculating various personnel costs, we pay about 1.5 times the figure of recruiting our own workers." Not surprisingly, complaints have arisen over the "quality" of incidental workers.

"This may be my subjective opinion, but about half the one-time workers are unsatisfactory, and at times when we're seriously shorthanded that percentage goes up," said the manager of a Chinese-style family restaurant chain in Tokyo. "To deal with workers who habitually show up late or who fail to show up at all, the app operators will delete them from the rolls, but some just change to a different service.

"Since they are one-time workers, the shops seldom make efforts to provide instruction or training," he continued. "But the word is if you complain about them to the service, they'll take it personally and post negative reviews of the restaurant, so they have to be handled with kid gloves"

"The health office requires regular kitchen staff to provide stool specimens once every three months, but such is not the case for part-timers, especially the one-time workers," the manager continued. "So mostly they are used for dishwashing or as busboys, or for cleaning up. An in-house rule prohibits them from preparing food.

"Still, we're so pinched for help in some cases we'll have them wear rubber gloves and put them to work slicing vegetables or dusting raw meat with arrowroot powder. So the jobs for part-timers tend to be assigned on the spot according to conditions at individual restaurants."

Yoshino Nishini, author of a book titled Kombini Onaa girigiri nikki (Diary of a hard-pressed owner), notes that when recruiting staff, convenience store owners were required to hire workers with previous experience.

"7-Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson have different ways of accepting payment for credit cards or e-money," explained Nishini. "Unless the workers have experience at the different chains, they definitely won't be able to figure out how to use the cash registers."

The article concludes that the present shortage of part-timers is a structural problem that won't be easily resolved through such measures as wider adoption of server robots or unmanned checkout counters. In shops and restaurants, customers will simply have no choice but to lower their expectations and become more tolerant of shortfalls in the level of services.

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Proper training, communication,equivalent pay for all workers regardless of hours worked,basic human empathy for workers' needs and life situations?

7 ( +7 / -0 )

In some EC countries, temp-help and part time workers who work at a company for a certain length of time (six months I think I read somewhere), have the option of becoming regular staff workers with the full compensation, welfare and pension package. Even if that's not practical for Japan, I'd like to see the law changed to improve workers' lot. Some don't even receive a transportation allowance, let along perks like bonus and paid leave.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Full time knowledge workers are about to get hit with catastrophic layoffs even in Japan, as in the near future there will barely be any office jobs available, the workers will trickle down and soon there will be an oversupply.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

"There are lots of places to make easy money," said one "ghost." "Some house cleaning services will pay ¥5,000 for three hours, which I receive even if I finish the job in one hour."

Hmm, that's only easy money if it is next door. Its not if twenty minutes or more to get there, especially if you need to take your own cleaning supplies. If you use Daikin to clean your house, they don't just turn up and do it with your whatever random stuff is in your place.

The only reason this sounds like "easy money" is that there are lots of other jobs that are lower-paid. 5000 yen for three hours is better than some, its more than my college-age daughter gets, but its below UK minimum wage. It annoys me for people to describe what is still low paid zero-hours work as "easy money".

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Pay people salaries instead of beggar money and you will have enough workers.

Japan keeps exploiting in particular foreign “ students” rather than paying just compensations for hard work.

-4 ( +10 / -14 )

again greed.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

Only going to get worse.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

"We just pay the introduction fee to the service operating the app. Timee Inc (the name of one such service) takes 30% of the worker's remuneration,"

Sounds like the Reverse Robin Hood model of the gig/sharing economy apps like Uber.

All the expenses and operation costs, tax, invoice is loaded onto the worker.

A dead end.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

What about Indian or Korean or Filipino?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

quote: The health office requires regular kitchen staff to provide stool specimens once every three months.

Never heard of that one before.

The staff shortage is moving people into the workforce that really needed to stay out of it. It may explain why more of my mail is vanishing in transit. Pandemic repatriations of migrant workers and new blocks on them mean that this isn't going away. Some sectors will simply lose viability. Hospitality, childcare, cleaning and general manual labour. Looking ahead, everything will cost you more and your profits will decline. This adds up to widescale economic damage.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The same problem is here in the US. It makes me wonder: where are all the people not working these jobs? Ain't they gotta eat and pay rent and things, too? If they're working elsewhere where are they? The answer might be an easy one but I don't get it. If someone would put me wise I'd appreciate it.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Let me help you explain, in part, Gene.

a lot of these people not working these “ jobs” have descended into criminality, prostitution, are homeless or otherwise lost to a positive role in society. Others go back to living with their parents.

The hardest and most unthankful jobs are most often paying the least. So, people working them constantly shift from one to another sometimes literally just for a dollar more. It’s a never ending carousel from 7-11 to mc Donald’s, Starbucks, back off the kitchen…

these “jobs” will constantly be open because they are not real jobs. They use and abuse people at the lower end of society.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

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