Number of temporary workers in Japan up 4.6% in fiscal 2008

Japan saw the number of temporary workers rise by 4.6 percent in fiscal 2008, a survey released by the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare showed on Thursday.

The number of workers now on temporary contracts stood at 3.99 million for fiscal 2008, in a country that was once known for companies that gave their staff jobs for life.

The survey compiled numbers from 66,424 businesses that declared their employment records to the government in the fiscal year that ended on March 31. In recent years, Japan has seen the number of temporary workers on its books increase, as the baby boomer generation begins to retire, and company workers are replaced by people hired from outside agencies.

In fiscal 2007, the nation saw the number of temporary workers increase by 18.7 percent.

Temporary workers are afforded less rights under the Japanese labor law, and can often be dismissed with very short notice and little compensation.

In the aftermath of the credit crisis that started in the United States last year, many temporary workers were left jobless with little money last winter.

The figures for 2008 showed that 2.81 million people were employed on short-term contracts with companies. The 1.18 million workers were in dispatched to companies on long-term contracts.

The governing Democratic Party of Japan said in its election manifesto this summer that it aims to improve the nation’s employment conditions, and “ban, in principle, the dispatch of temporary workers to manufacturing jobs.” The figures released Thursday showed that the number of temporary workers in manufacturing jobs had risen by 19.6 percent from the previous year to 560,000 people on June 1, 2008.

Critics of the temporary worker system have argued that the insecure nature of the jobs provides a great deal of benefits for large companies, but is on the whole detrimental to society.

In the last year, Japan has struggled to bounce back after suffering a downturn in the aftermath of the credit crisis, with weak employment and bad conditions for households preventing growth in the manufacturing sector from turning into a sustained recovery.