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Gov't rapped over lack of steps to stop 10-day holiday from disrupting daily lives

TOKYO -- Measures to prevent a 10-day consecutive holiday period around the imperial succession from late April to early May from adversely affecting citizens' daily lives have been criticized as half-baked.

Since most of these steps drawn up by relevant ministries and agencies and announced by the executive branch on Feb. 26 are "requests" to local bodies and private companies, questions remain about their effectiveness, say critics.

In October last year, Prime Minister Abe announced the plan for the 10-day vacation around the April 30 abdication of Emperor Akihito and Crown Prince Naruhito's May 1 accession to the Imperial Throne. At the time, virtually nobody expressed concerns about possible confusion.

Back then, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga underscored the significance of the vacation. "We expect that people can achieve more relaxing lifestyles by taking consecutive holidays," he said.

However, critics subsequently voiced concerns that such an unprecedented long vacation could cause confusion and pointed out other potential problems, forcing the executive branch and the ruling bloc to come up with countermeasures. The governing coalition fears that such confusion could adversely affect its chances of winning the summer House of Councillors election.

The central government intends to implement countermeasures in eight fields, including "medicine," "employment" and "day care and welfare."

These include steps aimed at preventing overwork during the holiday period for fear that workers in the restaurant and other service industries, which are expected to be busy responding to customers during the period, could be forced to work long hours due to labor shortages.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will urge the business community on its website to secure substitute consecutive holidays for workers if they work for 10 straight days during the vacation period. On the other hand, the ministry will request businesses that will shut down during the holiday to give "due consideration" to make up for a possible decrease in the income of non-regular workers.

Moreover, the ministry will ask prefectural governors to grasp the situation of medical services in their prefectures, such as which medical institutions will accept outpatients and which hospitals will respond to emergency cases during the holiday period to make sure that the break will not adversely affect the treatment of patients. Subsidies would be provided to day care centers in proportion to the number of children such facilities accept during the vacation period in a bid to encourage the facilities to accept more children.

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) legislators expressed concerns about these measures.

"Won't day laborers see their income decrease?" one of them told an LDP General Council meeting on Feb. 26.

"Will garbage collection and a plan to increase the number of children accepted at day care centers work properly?" another said.

Fumio Kishida, chairman of the LDP's General Council who urged the executive branch to draw up countermeasures, asked the government to take further steps.

"Concerns haven't yet been dispelled. We still have two months before the vacation period. We'd like the executive branch to brush up the countermeasures," he said.

Policymakers at junior ruling coalition partner Komeito asked officials at the executive branch about the amount of budget allocations and what kind of facilities would be subject to subsidies during a meeting on Feb. 26. However, the officials failed to give clear-cut replies.

(Japanese original by Junya Higuchi and Akira Murao, Political News Department)

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