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In Session: Japan’s Labor Reforms Confront the Coronavirus
3: The Japanese Way of Equal Pay for Equal Work: Implications of the Supreme Court Decisions under the COVID Pandemic
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
College of Asia Pacific Studies Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan
The Abe Administration has introduced a package of labor market reforms collectively known as the Work Style Reform (Hatarakikata Kaikaku), which legislated the equal pay for equal work principle. The new EPEW statute was drafted by ‘drawing on legal statutes from Western European countries’, while ‘duly taking into consideration the customarily Japanese employment practices’, which resulted in the creation of a uniquely Japanese EPEW principle that shares distinctive similarities and differences compared to its European counterparts. The architects of the new principle praised the Japanese way of EPEW as unprecedented and progressive. However, law-making based on the two premises has resulted in creating loopholes that significantly weakened the purported goal of closing the pay gap between regular and non-regular workers. Drawing on data gathered from field work in Germany and Japan, I show how the Japanese EPEW is designed to give discretion to employers in determining what is equal pay, and places heavy burden on individual workers to know the complex details of the law and exercise their right to voice. In addition, the weak labor law enforcement regime makes it even more unlikely that there will be significant improvements in the non-regular workers’ wellbeing. Finally, recent studies show that non-regular workers are losing work hours and wages, more so than the regular workers, under the economic downturn caused by the COVID19 pandemic. Such disproportionate penalties imposed on non-regular workers during an economically difficult time speaks to the fragility of the EPEW statute as a protective legislation.