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Single moms in Japan losing jobs due to virus crisis struggle to support their kids

A certificate of termination of employment which cites the novel coronavirus outbreak as a reason for dismissal, which was handed to a woman working at a travel company in the capital region, is seen in this image taken on May 23, 2020. (Mainichi/Yuka Narita)

TOKYO -- The coronavirus crisis is having a direct impact on workers in vulnerable positions in Japan, such as people rearing children or those who don't have permanent employment arrangements.

It's not just that people are being let go of, or having their contracts terminated; many people are finding that they have effectively lost their jobs due to the businesses they were employed at temporarily closing. According to figures announced on May 29, 2.6% of working adults are completely without a job, an increase of 0.1 of a percentage point on April. But the number of people on a break from their jobs is at 5.97 million, a rise of 4.2 million workers compared to the same month in 2019. Some unemployed people are concerned the coronavirus downturn could get worse.

One woman in her 40s who worked as a full-time employee at a travel company in the capital region was called in by the president in early March, and abruptly handed notice that her contract was being terminated. The company didn't provide a detailed explanation as to why, but on her last day she was given a certification of her dismissal that read, "Extreme drop in earnings due to the spread of the novel coronavirus (from canceled reservations etc.)." A senior colleague also lost his job at the same time.

The former travel agency employee takes care of her daughter and son of high school age alone. Around 10 years ago she and their father divorced, and she obtained certification to work in care facilities, and took up jobs at homes for elderly people. But her back would hurt from difficult physical work such as helping people in and out of the bath.

Then about a year ago she switched jobs to the travel company. Her role centered primarily on administrative work like taking phone calls and putting together documents, all of which were less taxing on her physically.

Now she's lost her income of around 150,000 yen per month, and she's trying to cover their lifestyle with the child care allowance she has always been receiving, which comes to around 50,000 yen a month, and unemployment benefits coming to around 120,000 yen a month. With both of her children home while schools are closed due to the coronavirus, the time they're spending there has gone up, and so too have food and utility costs. Once the 55,000 yen for the apartment's rent and around 20,000 yen in costs for internet connections necessary for the children to study at home and mobile phone bills are also taken out, very little remains in her pocket.

The period of eligibility to receive unemployment benefits is six months. When she lost her job, a person in charge at the company told her, "Once the coronavirus has passed and the travel season arrives we'll ask you back," but it's not something she can rely on. Now she's desperately looking for work, and has been visiting the government-run Hello Work public employment security bureau.

Her children both go to high schools far away, and having time to take them to and from school is one of the conditions of work she has held onto, but she worries that it may limit her ability to find a job. Both of her children are hoping to go on to university. But with the current state of her employment, she admits to being concerned, saying, "I wonder, will I be able to support my children's dreams and living?"

Elsewhere, another woman in her 40s working as a dispatch worker at a human resources service company in Saitama Prefecture, just north of Tokyo, was told in mid-May that her contract would not be renewed with her dispatch firm from July onward. The reason given was "personnel restructuring as a result of the novel coronavirus."

The dispatch worker is a single mother, with children in the lower years of elementary school. Schools and after-school child care centers are closed, so she now has to take care of her children during the day too, but because the company she's been placed at only allows permanent staff to take home essential customer data, she is not allowed to work remotely as a temporary employee. Due to her circumstances she has been almost entirely unable to go out to work during April and May, and she suspects this was why her contract was terminated.

The dispatch firm has told her that they can't introduce her to another company to work at from July. She said, "It's a difficult time for me to be finding another job, and it's unreasonable given I need to take care of my children. I can't understand why they just let me go like that."

According to the National Confederation of Trade Unions, known as Zenroren, its branches were approached for 952 consultations between March 16 and April 25. Of them, 157 concerned issues around wages, and 93 were about dismissal. In March, many of the consultations were on queries such as "I'm off work because of the coronavirus, but I'm not being paid for the time off." But from April they reportedly saw a greater proportion of people coming forward about losing their jobs. During its nationwide simultaneous hotline event held on May 16, some 34 of the 280 calls were about dismissal.

Satoshi Nakano, the head of Zenroren's organizational regulations response bureau, said, "In March we had a lot of consultations from freelance and part-time workers, and almost all of them were women. From April, we started seeing full-time workers and employees at big companies seeking consultations, too. Even though the state of emergency declaration has been lifted, there are companies with cash flow problems, so this serious situation will probably continue for a while."

(Japanese original by Yuka Narita, Asako Takeuchi and Nobuyuki Shimada, City News Department)

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