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On 4th Basic Plan for Gender Equality approved by Cabinet in December

By INOUE Hisashi
Secretary-General, National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
January 5, 2016

The government’s fourth Basic Plan for Gender Equality must be criticized as a plan drawn up in disregard of the reality. The plan, approved by the Cabinet on December 25, says, “Women’s active participation is expanding throughout society and Japan is undergoing a major change.”

Thirty years have passed since Japan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and enacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Law. But the effort to redress gender inequality has made little progress. Nearly 60 percent of women workers quit their jobs when they give births to their first child ? this situation remains unchanged. Contingent workers account for nearly 60 percent of all women workers. Women workers are paid about half of what male workers are. In the Gender Gap Index published in November 2015 by the World Economic Forum, Japan is at 101st place among 145 countries. The same report showed that wage disparities expanded from the previous year.

Without making any critical review of the failure to achieve the 30 percent target of women’s participation in decision-making, the “basic plan” has set forth a target that amounts to going backward from the previous 30 percent target. This should be severely criticized.

With the rest of the world moving toward achieving a 50 percent target, Japan is called upon to maintain its 30 percent target, analyze in earnest why women’s participation has slow progress, and set out concrete measures to improve performance.

What we must point out in this respect is that the key part of the plan regarding jobs only talks about the need to raise companies’ and men’s awareness and that it is very hesitant about tightening regulations. It sets out some regulations, including ending the moratorium on the application of overtime premium and encouraging the use of annual paid holidays ? some of which are already included in the bill to revise the Labor Standards Law, known as the bill to make unpaid overtime work legal.

The Abe government has faithfully acceded to the financial circles’ request to ease working time regulations and allow the employer to hire more contingent workers, without paying attention to the need to overhaul the Equal Employment Opportunity Law and the Part-Time Employment Act. If it is to encourage women to play an active role in society, it should make efforts to establish regulations to enable both men and women to work in decent working conditions with, for example, upper limits imposed on working time. Without changing the present labor market that forces more than half of women to work as contingent workers, it is difficult for workers to exercise their rights.

All this constitutes the background to the government’ fourth plan,which refers to the need for women to play an active part in society solely for the sake of economic growth and the means of dealing with population ageing, without paying due attention to promoting measures to women’s equality that establishes women’s human rights. Increasing policy measures that would help women in need make a living on their own will lead to improving women’s status.

A survey by Zenroren’s women’s section shows that most people say that the program for helping women deal with their jobs and family at the same time is not applicable because of a shortage of hands. The fourth basic plan talks about measures to improve jobs for women in government administration and their work environment. But it is extremely difficult to enable women to play an active role in the public sector work place without ending the measure to hold down total labor costs or without increasing personnel. The government should begin by increasing personnel in the public sector.

Zenroren will continue to demand measures enabling women to genuinely shine: strengthening working-time regulations; fundamentally improving the treatment of contingent workers and the Equal Employment Opportunity Law; substantially increasing the minimum wage; and establishing a system of securing minimum pension benefits to make it possible for everyone to live a decent life.

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