The government has unveiled a plan for its "active engagement of all citizens" policy, which calls for improvements in wages for non-regular workers as well as for day care and nursing care workers, and rectification of long work hours, among other measures.
Since Japan's social security policies had placed excessive emphasis on services for senior citizens, comprehensive reform measures that focus more on younger people should be hailed.
If Japan's population continues to decline, one estimate suggests that it will fall below 50 million by 2100. The active engagement policy reflects the government's sense of crisis. However, the plan has no specifics on how to achieve the goals it outlines.
The plan places top priority on ensuring equal pay for equal work. Wages for non-regular workers are about 60 percent of those for regular workers in the same job categories. The plan aims to raise this to around 80 percent, as is the case in many other countries. The government will seek to revise relevant legislation, including the Labor Contracts Act, to set criteria for the judicial branch to judge whether a gap in wages is unreasonable. The measure will press businesses to make efforts to increase wages for non-regular workers by helping non-regular workers launch lawsuits against employers that fail to follow administrative guidance to rectify an income gap.
However, working out criteria in each business sector that can satisfy both labor and management will require a complex process. If employers reduced salaries for full-time employees or increased the number of non-regular workers to avoid an increase in personnel expenses, they would achieve equal pay for equal work, but at a very low level.
The government plans to increase the monthly salary for day care workers by 2 percent, or approximately 6,000 yen, in fiscal 2017, and later raise the wage for veteran day care workers by up to 40,000 yen a month. Since the average monthly salary for daycare workers is 110,000 yen, below the average in all business categories, such small increases are highly unlikely to help secure high-quality childcare workers.
Some 200 billion yen needs to be secured for measures to increase the wages for daycare and nursing care workers incorporated in the plan. However, the plan states that the money will be secured through increased tax revenues achieved through "Abenomics," an economic policy mix promoted by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. There seems no prospect that permanent financial resources for these measures will be secured. The government had intended to spend 1.1 trillion yen -- obtained from a consumption tax increase from the current 8 percent to 10 percent scheduled for April 2017 -- on measures to support childrearing. It appears likely, however, that only 700 billion yen will be available for these measures.
Dynamic engagement of all citizens is a comprehensive policy to achieve what the Abe government calls "three new arrows" of increasing gross domestic product to 600 trillion yen, raising the "hopeful" birthrate -- achieved if young people marry and have children just as they hope -- to 1.8, and preventing those who must care for their elderly and sick family members from being forced to leave their jobs. Its overall direction of redistributing wealth to rectify Japan's growing income gap and aiming for a virtuous economic cycle is correct.
Slots for 300,000 children will be created at after-school childcare facilities by academic 2018, and the number of free (in principle) learning support facilities for those who refuse to attend school will be increased to 5,000 by the 2019 school year under the plan. Assistance for children and young parents should be further improved.
The government should show the public clear foundations for its claim that these measures are feasible. Otherwise, they will face criticism that the dynamic engagement of all citizens plan is a pie in the sky, dreamed up merely to garner votes for the ruling coalition in the upcoming House of Councillors election.