Japan Doesn't Get It

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Japan’s attitude toward the financial crisis is best summed up by my host father:

“Part time workers just work when they feel like it, then go travel and have fun, then come back and work some more when they run out of cash. We don’t need to protect them.” (my translation)
Japan has run on a life-employment system for over half a century. Students interview for jobs in their third year of college, enter companies right after graduation, and stay there until they retire (or, for women, until they marry). The part-time and contract system has essentially been the domain of retirees, wives, students, foreigners, college dropouts, and others unable to enter companies as lifetime employees. Unfortunately, this sector is a lot larger than anyone in Japan would care to admit. From a recent article in The New York Times:

Until a decade ago, nonregular workers accounted for less than a quarter of Japan’s total work force, and included subcontractors and others outside the lifetime employment system as well as students or homemakers working part-time jobs at restaurants or convenience stores.
But the number of nonregular workers took off after an easing of labor laws in 1999 and again in 2004 allowed temporary workers to work on factory lines and in other jobs once largely restricted to full-time workers. During Japan’s economic recovery in this decade, companies added millions of less expensive temporary employees while continuing to reduce overall numbers of full-time staff.
Today, 34.5 percent of Japan’s 55.3 million workers are nonregular employees, including many primary breadwinners for households, according to the Internal Affairs Ministry.

A huge part of Japan’s economy is built on these workers, but the stoneheaded tools running the government-business complex here refuse to acknowledge any lifestyle outside of the classic salaryman + wife model (The man gives his life to the company, the wife gives her life to the family and the household, and the company ensures their safety and economic well-being). They refuse to admit that lifetime employment works when there’s a global economy ready to buy from a lively manufacturing sector, but once a financial crisis and soaring yen kill your export market, you’re stuck with companies in the red, and huge workforces of inefficient, unfireable lifetime employees.

Under the nation’s traditional company-centered social welfare system, created after World War II, companies were expected to look after employees until retirement and beyond, serving as the main conduit for pensions and other benefits, and keeping jobless rosters empty by not laying off workers.
ven the limited government job-loss benefits were devised with lifetime employees in mind. To receive unemployment insurance, for instance, workers must have held the same job for at least a year, effectively excluding most temporary workers, whose contracts can be as short as two months. This has left at least half of Japan’s 17.8 million nonregular workers ineligible for unemployment aid, say labor experts and Labor Ministry officials.

Because changing the lifetime employment system would be mean (gasp!) admitting that they don’t know everything about building a healthy economy and society, they just fire all the temporary and contract workers and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. The establishment here are a bunch of tools, and decent, simple guys like my host father come up with outlandish ideas to reconcile the lies from the State with the the crumbling economy right before their eyes.

More on Japan’s blockheaded handling of their labor market crisis in this New York Times article.