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Japan – Peculiar recruitment methods hampering job market

24 July 2013

Fulltime employees in Japanese companies have no limits to their duties, their hours, or their job location; and their employers can implement change at will, according to an article on Nippon.com. Japanese employees have no right to limit their duties, refuse overtime, or decline transfers to another location regardless of distance. The Japanese Supreme Court has supported rulings on each of these three matters. 

In return for these opaque working conditions, Japanese employees receive greater employment security. If the work carried out by an employee becomes superfluous the employee would be reassigned to another post in the same company. Once employed by a company, Japanese employees have traditionally enjoyed a ‘job for life’.  

Before the 1990s, non-regular employment in the forms of part-time or temporary work accounted for less than 20% of the working population. Following the global economic crisis, they now account for almost 40%. Graduates are no longer being recruited in the same numbers and many are being forced into non-regular employment with low pay and little security.

In an attempt to deal with this issue of rising non-regular employment, a revision of the Labour Contract Act in 2012 specified that employees who have worked under fixed-term contracts that have been renewed for a period of over five years can switch to a non-fixed term contract. This doesn’t mean, however, that they work to the same conditions as those with a ‘job for life’. Their hours, duties, and job location are fixed under the terms of the contract, putting then on-par with western employment contracts. 

Fulltime employment contracts in Japan rarely describe the job role, and even if this is outlined it can be subject to change by the employer at any time. Instead of recruiting employees with specific skill sets to perform set tasks, Japanese companies have generally hired young people en masse following their graduation. They accept applications from students before they graduate and attempt to select the ones with they perceive with the latent ability to fulfil any task that the company may assign them.

The structure of the Japanese labour market is primarily affected by three key issues; the aging working population, increasing the number of women in the workforce, and the workers’ rising education levels. In order to combat these difficulties, there has been growing support for movement away from ‘jobs for life’ and the implementation of more western style employment contracts. Strong opposition has been voiced by labour unions and political parties that rely on labour union support.    

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