Steps eyed for temps’ plight

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry may submit a bill to the Diet this fall that will urge, but not require, temp staffing agencies to pursue regular employment for the workers they dispatch in a bid to bring more stability to the lives of the underpaid.

Although experts welcome such an overture, they believe the measure will do little to improve the livelihood of so-called irregular employees unless it is binding.

The nation’s ranks of temp and irregular workers generally lead unstable lives with uncertain futures.

Such income instability, some argue, may have been a motivating factor behind a temp worker’s murderous vehicular and stabbing rampage in June in the Akihabara district in Tokyo. The suspect was reportedly frustrated by his employer’s restructuring plan.

Satoshi Kamata, a prominent journalist who follows labor issues, praised the ministry’s overall direction. The ministry may have realized the deregulation it has pursued helped create the income divide and it is now trying to close it, he said.

Dispatching workers was legalized in 1985, when corporations demanded professionals specialized in information technology and other fields. After the burst of the bubble economy, companies reduced their ranks of permanent full-time employees and tapped the temp workforce to slash labor costs.

The government initially limited the legal scope of dispatch worker professions. But in 1999, it legalized the dispatch of workers in most occupations. The number of dispatched workers nationwide jumped from 330,000 in 2000 to 1.3 million in 2007.

As temp employment became widespread, so, too, did the wage disparity between such workers and regular company employees. According to the ministry’s 2005 survey of 45- to 49-year-olds, regular workers in general earned ¥5.9 million a year, while temps earned only ¥3.1 million.

Irregular workers constantly face abrupt layoffs, leaving them insecure and even desperate, Kamata noted.

Corporations “have long continued to treat temp staff in a way that inevitably makes them feel desperate and unable to lead normal lives,” he said, adding this pushes some to commit crimes. “The situation has reached a critical point.”