By Yuko Ohiro / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThere has been a rapid increase in the number of nonregular workers in local governments nationwide — not only among elementary and junior high school teachers, but also those working in the welfare sector as counselors and general office workers. With this in mind, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry decided that the first survey on nonregular public sector workers (see below) was to be carried out by local authorities by the end of 2017. We looked into the matter to find out the actual situation and what can be done about it.
A 58-year-old nonregular employee teaching at a public day-care center in the Kansai region has been technically working full-time five days a week for about 20 years. Her employment period has always been one year, meaning she has had to seek reemployment about 20 times. This is because the nonregular employment period is set at no more than one year, as regulated in laws such as the Local Public Service Law.
She has been in charge of a class each year, but her salary has barely changed, and her take home pay remains at ¥176,000 per month. She is offered no retirement allowance. Her daughter, who has been employed full-time as a day-care worker at a nearby day-care center for more than one year, has already caught up to her in terms of income — surprising the woman at just how poor her work benefits are.
Out of the 14 day-care workers employed at her center, 12 are nonregular employees. Out of five classes, four were headed up by nonregular employees. “I thought this gap was very strange, but there was no other work available while raising a child by myself, so I couldn’t say anything. I wonder if this situation is really OK for a job with so much responsibility for other people’s lives?” she said.
“I can’t take it anymore”
Many nonregular public sector workers have side jobs because their pay is so low.
One woman, 49, who has been supporting welfare recipients looking for work for more than 15 years, has three to four side jobs and is raising two children as a single mother.
She works four days a week as a public sector employee. As this is one day less than a five-day week, she is not treated as a full-time employee, and her take home pay doesn’t even amount to ¥150,000. She has even fainted from working too much. “Even though I’m trying so hard to support the poor, I can’t even provide for my own family. I can’t take it anymore,” she said.
One man, 53, who is also employed on a nonregular basis at the same place, has to work three days a week at a special nursing care home for the elderly to make ends meet for his family. “Working in the welfare sector isn’t just about introducing people to work; we also deal with a range of complex issues including debt, illness and family situations. This isn’t the kind of job you do to earn a little extra pocket money,” he says.
Tight public finances
In 2016, the ministry found there were about 640,000 nonregular employees in the public sector that fulfilled certain conditions such as “an employment period of over six months as of April 1.” This is a steep increase from the 2005 survey, which found there were about 460,000 of these workers. They worked in a wide range of fields, including as general office workers, teachers, day-care workers and counselors in the welfare sector.
In addition to tight public finances, the declining population, and therefore a decline in the volume of work, is contributing to these statistics. Under these circumstances, when new needs arise and additional manpower is required, particularly in the welfare and education sectors, local authorities have been hiring nonregular workers. This is to avoid employing full-time workers, who are hard to dismiss and cost more.
In the latest survey, the ministry decided to remove conditions such as employment periods for the first time. It demanded that local authorities investigate all nonregular public sector workers employed every fiscal year, including those employed for less than six months.
Catching up to private sector
There are those who doubt that a picture of the current state of nonregular public sector employees can be gleaned through this survey. This is because the questions stop at formalities, such as the employment period and working hours. If they do not investigate the number of people repeatedly entering into short-term employment or the differences in what work they do compared to full-time employees, the survey will not be able to grasp the reality of the situation and will do little to improve the working conditions of nonregular workers.
Practices such as reemploying people for less than two months at a time so that they are ineligible for the welfare pension or social security, or setting nonregular workers’ hours five minutes less than full-time employees so there is no reason to treat them the same, are rampant in some areas. However, with no nonregular public sector worker employment rules in place that concern either of these practices, they cannot be immediately labeled as illegal.
The Labor Contract Law, which protects non-regular workers in the private sector, urges employers to avoid short-term employment. Furthermore, once the term worked by a nonregular employee exceeds a total of five years, workers earn the right to unlimited “full-time” employment. But this excludes employees in the public sector.
One woman in Nagasaki Prefecture, who is a former temporary worker, filed a lawsuit against the prefectural government with the Nagasaki District Court in 2014, saying that short-term employment had been repeated for a total of 67 times over the course of 6½ years, with her employers changing back and forth from the prefectural government to prefectural government-affiliated bodies. She said this practice “violates the Labor Contract Law.”
At a trial at the district court, the prefectural government was found to have treated the plaintiff illegally in some instances and was ordered to pay her about ¥400,000 in reparation, but the claim for a retirement allowance was rejected on the grounds that “the Labor Contract Law does not apply to local public sector employees.”
In February last year, a settlement was reached and the prefecture agreed to pay her ¥500,000. The plaintiff said, “We are not only unprotected as public sector workers, but also as nonregular employees.”
This not only disadvantages workers, but also raises fears of a deterioration in the quality of services for citizens as it becomes harder to find suitable staff.
Yuichiro Mizumachi, a professor of the University of Tokyo who specializes in labor law, said: “As private companies grapple with improving conditions for nonregular workers, not doing anything by using the excuse that they’re in the public sector won’t be accepted anymore. Companies are doing their best under a limited budget. Proper employment rules need to be established to sort out work, eliminate waste and compensate necessary work appropriately.”
■ Survey on nonregular public sector workers
In August last year, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry requested each local government check employment periods, working hours and pay for all nonregular public sector employees. The survey is partly based on the Local Public Service Law, which was revised in May last year with the aim of correcting the gap between full-time and nonregular employees. The law will come into effect in 2020. The ministry will discuss measures to improve the situation based on the survey results compiled by each local government.