politics

Stakes high as Abe eyes labor reform to boost economy

40 Comments
By Noriyuki Suzuki

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The economic benefits of the “Premium Friday” campaign appear to be meager for now, but economists say it is too early to draw a conclusion.

Right...anytime this government gets involved with anything the results always seem to come out meager, or less.

Want to make quality of life changes? When a holiday lands on a Saturday, give people the day off before. Make the official work week Monday through Friday, now too many places call it, shu-kyu-futsuka, or two days off a week, but that does not mean they will be together or Sat and Sun.

Take a look at the Scandinavian countries and the quality of life they have.

Oh, impossible suggestion here, but stop with the thinking that what is good for Tokyo is fine for the rest of the country.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Which iteration of the J-gov slashed the weekend highway tolls?

I travelled a heck of a lot more when I only had to pay 1000 yen for a trip on the highway anywhere in Japan. But I also spent more on hotels, restaurants and "michi-no-eki" souvenirs and the such. I wonder if they have any spending data comparing the 1000 yen weekend tolls vs the current discount tolls?

For purely selfish reasons, bring that back I say! I would love to see more of Japan at a reasonable price!

7 ( +7 / -0 )

It encourages employees to finish work earlier than usual on the last Friday of each month and to increase consumption—a soft spot in the deflation-hit economy.

LOL this is some impressive logic, pay me peanuts but expect me to spend on the last Friday of the month. Cheers!!

“Changing how people work and enabling more elderly workers and women to live up to their potential are critical for Japan to solve labor shortages and to achieve sustained economic growth,

Nice, blame the elders and women? This is the stone age mentality that's drowning Japan.

The future of “Abenomics” is seen to increasingly depend on the success of labor reforms.

Yup seeing as everything else going for it has failed. Failure to admit failure is only kicking the can down the road further.

whether we can change our culture, lifestyles, and long-established labor practices,

This isn't going to work. Charity begins at home. Without massive reducation from an early age to revise individual perceptions, this is simply wishful thinking.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I agree with @Yubaru. If the holiday is Thursday give Friday off as well. Same Tuesday, give Monday off as well.

The government played with the holiday scheduling a few years back to create what they call the "Happy Monday", Coming of Age Day, Ocean Day, Respect for the Aged, and Sports Day, were locked into either the second or third Monday of their respective months.

Also what is idiotic to me is the Autumn (euphemistically named Silver Week) break, that only happens every 5 or 6 years, when Respect For the Aged Day, and the Autumn Equinox holiday fall on a Monday and Wednesday of the same week, the Tuesday in between is a national holiday as well,

It is a FACT that the economy gets an influx of spending on those longer breaks, airline fares go up as well, as there is higher demand, and people get out and spend money.

Give folks Saturday's and Sunday's off, and make EVERY Friday "Premium" (and not just Tokyo,....) and people will find ways to fill that time, without the interference of the government, and Abe's wet dream of the people spending money will come to fruition.

Speaking as someone who works on Saturdays - them's fighting words pal. Saturday holidays are like the greatest thing for me - they mean I have the chance to go out on a Saturday night not exhausted from working the whole day or kept up the night before by the noise of my stumbling-home-late-from-the-bar neighbors.

If you read what I wrote AFTER that comment you would have both days off, Friday AND Saturday and Sunday and you want to fight about it? lol!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The 40% and counting, low pay, non-regular, part time, employees are not only supporting Premium Friday, there are also propping up unsustainable remuneration packages for the 60% fix contract staff, some are gross underachievers. Add to this a top heavy unproductive middle to senior management structure.

Investors who wish to release potential and innovation, are saddled with an rigid core of static, fixed contract staff supported by inflexible managers promoted through seniority and entitlement.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Most companies employ on a monthly bases and work on allowing a certain number of days off each month and it has nothing to do with if those days fall on weekends or not.

Labor laws have been in place for years, but nothing changes. Annual holiday pay is a good example, companies refuse to honor labor laws for holiday entitlement, the result is that many Japanese work for years and never have any paid holiday.

Changing and or introducing new laws will change nothing, as Japanese people follow their feelings and not the law, the result is that many will never leave work early and or take a holiday.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Due to poor pensions,especially for self-employed people, most people are saving for the future.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The solutions are and have been obvious forever.

First. Limit salaried work weeks to 40hrs. Require paid OT for anything over 5 hrs per week. Double time pay for weekend and holidays. Period. This will force companies to do one of two things. 1. Become more efficient so over work is not as required. 2. Look to hiring younger or older workers to pick up gaps.

The benefit is obvious. People finishing work at 6 or 7 will still have time to go out to dinner, go shopping, catch an event or movie or concert, spent time with family doing some kind of activities. And more.

Family and individual activity will spur domestic spending. We have seen this in Europe where people do far more out after work and are far more involved in activities that generate income for other businesses.

This means more income for a wide range of businesses. It means more tax revenue. Efficiency improvements forced by this would improve Japanese global competitiveness. Win, win, win, win, win.....

But first you need people who don't think "Premium Friday" or "Happy Monday" sound like labor solutions. These are frankly completely daft ideas that have zero hope of changing anything. Like painting a collapsing house a new color to shore it up. Idiocy.

Instead you need a plan to move the entire country towards what I have suggested in a 3 year period and enforce the labor laws once they are in place. Stop this insane exploitation of every worker in Japan and make a society of families who have time together, people who have time to spend some money and enjoy life and make the country more efficient.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

pure LDP PR fluff.... and this passes for journalism in this country

3 ( +4 / -1 )

By finishing work at 3 p.m., government officials and economists hope, Japanese workers will loosen their purse strings and increase spending on weekend travel, entertainment and eating out.

Finishing work early on Friday means nothing if you have to work Saturday. And with the recent change allowing schools to have classes on Saturday, they are just reinforcing the traditional 6-day work week that Japan has always done. Speaking from personal experience, all I do on Saturday after work is the weekly grocery shopping. And on Sunday, I want to go nowhere except stay home.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Maxjapank You are a great example.

We run a small cafe. We depend upon people coming out to eat or enjoy an event. But so many people work too late to do anything after work. So weeknights are quiet unless something rare is happening that people will go to anyway. Weekends a lot of people work too, so they may come in but not like they could.

Most of our customers are not typical salary people like me. Even my job makes coming to our own cafe hard when hours are late and weekend work is looming too.

It hurts us all. Exploitation here needs to change.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The solutions are and have been obvious forever. First. Limit salaried work weeks to 40hrs. Require paid OT for anything over 5 hrs per week. Double time pay for weekend and holidays.

A 40 hour work week is already written into law and has been for years. Also, employers are legally required to pay overtime for any work over 40 hours per week. The only problem is the law is not enforced. If the government refuse to enforce the law nothing will change.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

YubaruAPR. 10, 2017 - 06:48AM JST Want to make quality of life changes? When a holiday lands on a Saturday, give people the day off before.

Speaking as someone who works on Saturdays - them's fighting words pal. Saturday holidays are like the greatest thing for me - they mean I have the chance to go out on a Saturday night not exhausted from working the whole day or kept up the night before by the noise of my stumbling-home-late-from-the-bar neighbors.

Trying to micromanage employment policy isn't going to work here. Aside from the pathetic government protections against mandatory unpaid overtime, legally speaking I don't think Japan is all that bad. It's the culture of overwork that needs to be changed, and I don't see how Tokyo can fix that in the short term.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I agree with @Yubaru. If the holiday is Thursday give Friday off as well. Same Tuesday, give Monday off as well.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

@Yubaru

But your talking about what would be regarded as weekends off, not annual paid holiday.

In our area most Japanese are scheduled random days off during the month and many have no choice when these days are scheduled, but as for annual paid holiday under the labor law, I have seen staff ostracized for just mentioning anything about annual holiday pay.

Even pregnant mothers have been denied maternity pay and or holiday pay for days off.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

P Friday wasn't mentioned anywhere last month... The 10,000yen that Kozumi gave everyone in Japan was better.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Private consumption, accounting for roughly 60 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product

This is commonly stated, but in fact, nonsense.

Consumption is not gross domestic product. Consumption is the consumption of what is produced.

The backwards notion that consumption is production stems solely from one of the ways in which GDP is calculated, the so-called "expenditure approach". It's merely that economists seek to measure what is produced by looking at what people have spent money on, be it households, government or businesses.

The same "expenditure approach" has it that imports subtract from GDP. Imports are subtracted only because imports are not produced domestically, and therefore spending on them should not be counted.

Yet as a result there are people who believe that trade "deficits" are bad, when in fact having a trade "deficit" indicates that you are prosperous and can buy lots of stuff from overseas.

What Abe needs to be looking at is boosting actual productivity (to boost the Product in GDP, who'd have thunk it). I doubt Premium Friday will aid that much. Rather I'd prefer to have a "lets work smarter" campaign instead. Get more done in the same time, or less.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Abe's idea behind Premium Friday is to increase consumption. But, according to the above article: "Abe left his office early to do “zazen,” or seated meditation, at a temple on Feb. 24 when the “Premium Friday” campaign began, and went to his vacation house outside of Tokyo on March 31, the second Premium Friday." So ... how did Abe help increase consumption when he himself apparently did not spend any money during the two Premium Fridays? He better stop being a hypocrite and get out there and spend some of his rich family's money. Abe-san, show us that you indeed want to increase consumption by setting a good example ...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Most companies employ on a monthly bases and work on allowing a certain number of days off each month and it has nothing to do with if those days fall on weekends or not.

Exactly....The basis for my company is a total number of off days over the course of the year, with three days for summer break and a 4 day "refresh" break that has to be taken consecutively at anytime during the fiscal calendar year (April to March)

So my company picks 55 days that EVERYONE is off, then it's up to each employee to fill in the other 50 days, summer and refresh break.

It takes a bit of getting used to, and it's hard to decide which days to take off, but fortunately when we submit our yearly off days schedule at the beginning of March, we also have the ability to make changes as necessary, without a ton of paperwork either.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Political gimmicks and trickery masquerading as labour market reform.

Only complete and far reaching economic structural reform, beginning with labour contact and work time law. Premium Friday for the hourly paid/part time grafters, is monetarily and fiscally opening an extravagant box of chocolates and finding note from your full time colleagues demanding you to get back to work!.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I stopped reading when it described Premium Friday as a symbol of Abe's drive.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The recent start of “Premium Friday,” an initiative led by the government and the private sector, is symbolic of Abe’s drive.

Bwahahahaha! I can't believe this nutter is putting so much faith in an 'option' for people to finish 2 or 3 hours early on Friday to reboot the economy. Here's some news for you Mr. Abe: Nobody is taking the time off! It's only the government offices who are using this. My GF's company told the staff that, only one person from each section may take the option per month and they are only allowed to finish 2 hours early 'IF' their workload allows it. However, it's good to see that Abr is getting his 'Premium Fridays'. Abe left his office early to do “zazen,” or seated meditation, at a temple on Feb. 24 when the “Premium Friday” campaign began, and went to his vacation house outside of Tokyo on March 31, the second Premium Friday.

The labor reform panel headed by Abe is seeking to ensure “equal pay for equal work,” making its case for no discrimination between regular and non-regular workers. Non-regular workers now account for around 40 percent of the total workforce in Japan.

This is a pretty interesting statement considering he changed the labor laws to make it easier for companies to fire non-regular workers in his first year of office. From what I have seen, these non-regular workers are given most of the workload and responsibility while the 'regular' workers do bugger all besides tell the others what to do and threaten them with being fired if they don't do it. "Equal pay for equal work" is one thing, but discrimination and intimidation in the workplace is a very different thing. These 'non-regular' employment contracts were set up by Koizumi over a decade ago. However, he set them up to give workers more freedom and a chance to make more money. Then, the successive ruling parties attacked these contracts making them an extremely fickle employment agreement with lower salaries, no status on the hierarchy table and no chance of promotion. Now, 40% of the workforce are on these contracts. If Abe is serious about labor reform, this is where he should start!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Was mentioned by many shops offering deals.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

As I see it, anything economically driven is a failure. Most Japznrse won't change even if offered holidays. They work during holidays ! Education is all. Abe has no strong life reforms to propose yet. Personal entitlement is key. It will need a generation to get around.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

pure LDP PR fluff.... and this passes for journalism in this country

Yep, LDP press releases filtered through Kyodo and presented as news. Last week we all saw the reaction to an independant journalist asking a pointed question.....

A 40 hour work week is already written into law and has been for years. Also, employers are legally required to pay overtime for any work over 40 hours per week. The only problem is the law is not enforced. If the government refuse to enforce the law nothing will change.

Twice last year Shinzo went cap in hand to Keidanren pleading for salary increases to boost inflation. Twice they told him to get lost. What chance does he have of forcing them to follow the law of the country? Especially as unpaid overtime is one of the bases of the Japanese economy.

And yet, following Brexit the major car companies were immediately on the phone demanding he assist in getting special consideration for them from the British government.

Is Japan heading for what the Financial Times calls sophisticated state failure? It certainly seems that way...

https://www.ft.com/content/f519492e-022b-11e6-99cb-83242733f755

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I think many commenters here are missing the point by saying that this is a flawed approach. Abe and his cronies have absolutely no interest in labor reform. It's foolish to think otherwise. This is all to keep international human rights' groups and certain constituencies off their backs. Meanwhile, if you didn't happen to read the big banner out the front, welcome to slavery! It's here to stay.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

nudge more workers toward striking the right work-life balance.

What an offensive thing to say. As if workers could achieve the "right work-life balance" through their own actions. Most workers have no choice but to work the hours their employers demand.

Fwiw, I would pass a new labour law that made it far easier for companies to dismiss seishain but punished them much more heavily for abusing part timers and not employing them on a full-time basis. I would also waive several years' of shakai hoken contributions when a company employs a new seishain over 40, the idea being to reward companies who employ older workers (i.e., headhunt actual talent). It would be a "nudge" (their word) toward creating a flexible labour market. The present system rewards mediocre employees who get a free ride to retirement with some company who took them on at 22/23. The employment needs to change to one where talent moves to successful companies and strengthens them and the economy. Its no use having talented people on sinking ships kept afloat by creative accounting.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan ranks the 3rd in the numbers of national holidays.

Doesn't mean much when a national holiday in the week means you have to work Saturday to make up for it, or, in many industries, simply ignore it. (Do shops close on national holidays? Restaurants? Hotels? Hospitals? Do the police and fire departments simply send their workforce home?)

It isn't the on-average-once-a month single weekday off (welcome though that may be) that people need; it's the ability to take extended time off when it suits the individual and his/her family, not when the calendar dictates.

In order to boost spending, you need to be able to coordinate family time off; no good Dad having a week off work if Mum and the kids have to go into work/school; that doesn't translate into a family trip, with money spent on travel, eating out, entertainment, souvenirs etc. It likely translates into Dad spending the day in front of the telly, or sleeping, and eating out of the fridge instead of buying lunch near his place of work, ie less money being spent, not more. Not that there's anything wrong with a person spending his day off doing nothing, if that's what he wants; but it does nothing for the national economy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

When I was working at an American company, I had a surprising experience. Our new boss was not appearing before us passing the expected time. I asked to an American worker. He said the new boss took his annual leave before his assignment. This never happens in Japan. Our gap is big.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It looks like most of the assumptions made here are based on full time workers and no regard on part timers and contract workers who make about 40% of the workforce. An increase in holidays means a reduction in working days for the non-full time workers meaning a reduction in income for an already exploited bunch and you people expect them to spend from thin air. Even full time workers want to do overtime to augment their low pay, reducing the number of days will not help much as there is not much spending income. Increase the base pay and reducing some other expenditures like tolls will help to improve spending Abe increased tolls that were reduced by minshuto and with it killed the incentive for families to go on trips.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I would like to see research on how much overtime is being worked on "Black Thursday"...the day before Premium Friday. Probably the workload is just being shifted because the work still has to be done.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I would like to see research on how much overtime is being worked on "Black Thursday"...the day before Premium Friday. Probably the workload is just being shifted because the work still has to be done.

You have it wrong, it would be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday....

OH and ONLY in Tokyo...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

tinawatanabe: "I've heard Japan has more national holidays than other countries."

Where'd you hear that, tina? It has more than SOME nations, but a whole lot less than others. It ranks the same as Malaysia, Argentina, Lithuania, Vietnam, Sweden, with 15 or 16 national holidays. The problem is that people are forced to work on a lot of holidays, have zangyou service, and push people to the point of "karoshi" -- a word that has been put into English language dictionaries from Japanese because there is no societal equivalent. In fact, the Japanese government wants to put a "limit" on the amount of overtime so that each person only has to work 15 hours a day each day -- isn't that wonderful? and that's forgetting that overwork is also already illegal without being properly compensated, which workers are not being. So, they could make it 100 holidays and that would still be 100 holidays people here have to work in many cases.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

sangetsu03APR. 10, 2017 - 10:15PM JST Take a look at the Scandinavian countries and the quality of life they have. Scandinavia is one of the few industrialized regions which has a suicide rate higher than Japan's.

Link please.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/suiciderate.html

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japanese managers need training in the ability to empathize with their staff and better consider their welfare. As a Japanese friend who works at Google Japan put it, 'Japanese managers need to learn that part of their role is to respect their staffs time and not to waste it'.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Take a look at the Scandinavian countries and the quality of life they have.

Scandinavia is one of the few industrialized regions which has a suicide rate higher than Japan's.

The reason Japanese work so many hours, and get so few holidays, and short vacations is because they don't demand them. Japanese are too complacent, and rather than protest against problems, mistakes, and difficulties, they simply go along with them. If they buy a defective product, or something the wrong size at the store, they will seldom bother to return or exchange the item, or to complain if a shop or restaurant makes a mistake. I once watched a waiter deliver two dinners to the wrong tables at a restaurant, the customers looked curiously at the food, but said nothing and ate it. Where else in the world would that happen?

But that is the culture here, and with the country being monocultural, change is going to come very slowly.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

tinawatanabe: "karoshi is not an everyday event."

But it's frequent enough -- when it should not even exist -- to have become a loan word in other languages dictionaries in reference to Japanese culture.

"Japan ranks the 3rd in the numbers of national holidays."

And again, national holidays (it only ranks top three, and tied with many other countries, and still less than others, because of the addition of Mountain Day last year) do not mean days off for the majority of Japanese, and if they DO get it off they still have to work other days instead.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Those 'other countries' also enjoy generous (in comparison), guilt free and flexible annual leave that is taken without losing one's job...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The reason Japanese work so many hours, and get so few holidays, and short vacations

I've heard Japan has more national holidays than other countries.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Japan ranks the 3rd in the numbers of national holidays.

www.mercer.co.jp/.../2014-global-public-holiday-entitlements.

push people to the point of "karoshi"

karoshi is not an everyday event.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

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