Session Abstract: Japan implemented sweeping labor law revisions, known as Work Style Reform (hatarakikata kaikaku), in 2019. Opinion was divided even before the coronavirus crisis. Supporters emphasized the reforms as “progressive,” capable of reducing work hours and raising pay. Critics derided loopholes and exemptions that permit dangerous work conditions. Now, the coronavirus crisis has brought some reform features into further doubt. In principle, the pandemic response could strengthen progressive elements of Work Style Reform because conservatives, seeking to maintain a stable, productive population, are reputedly committed to pragmatic labor market policies that will ease burdens for childrearing families. Worker advocates, however, assail the reforms as neoliberal deregulation: a stalking horse for advancing business and hard-core conservative interests. Our papers assess the emerging post-reform landscape from the perspective of workers, union leaders, business owners, labor lawyers, and Labor Standards officials. Framed by analysis of recent macro-economic trends, our research finds that Japan’s reforms are unlikely to stem the degradation of employment stability, wages, worker protections, and workplace democracy that characterized the last 25 years. This tentative conclusion is drawn from interrelated indicators of reform outcomes, which are explored in our papers. These include macroeconomic and budgetary trendlines, women’s labor force status and social welfare support for family care, persistent wage gaps and expansion of irregular work, and health and social effects of long hours often required for full-time work. These results are early fruit of a multi-disciplinary study of implementation and enforcement of labor policy reforms in Japan.
Paper Presenter: Takaaki Suzuki – Ohio University
Paper Presenter: Charles Weathers – Osaka City University
Paper Presenter: Shinji Kojima – College of Asia Pacific Studies Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University
Paper Presenter: Scott North – Osaka University