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Editorial: Livelihoods of contract workers in Japan must be secured amid virus crisis

Japan's employment situation is showing no signs of improvement due to the spread of the new coronavirus. The unemployment rate in May was 2.9%, marking an increase for three straight months. At least 30,000 workers are estimated to have been affected by the pandemic, by either being fired or not having their contracts renewed. At least half of those workers are temporary contract employees.

Companies should first and foremost commit to protecting their employees' jobs. The government's employment adjustment subsidy, which helps employers pay for their workers when they are furloughed, covers non-regular employees. As the application process for the subsidy system takes time, there are some small and midsize firms that remain reluctant to utilize the program, but we want to see these employers make use of the government subsidy and not resort to easily firing their workers.

At the same time, Japan needs to make sure that safety nets work effectively for those who have lost their jobs.

In Japan, only around 20% of those between jobs are said to meet the requirements of unemployment benefits and are receiving the funds. Non-regular workers in particular tend to have little savings, and losing their jobs could soon lead them to poverty. If workers are told to leave their company dorms when they lose their jobs, they also lose their housing.

The central government has expanded relief payments through measures such as emergency loans for the unemployed to cover their living expenses and a subsidy to help pay rent, using its supplementary budget.

We request that local governments beef up systems for consultation services so that those in need can acquire necessary information in a one-stop manner. If economic recovery lags behind, actions such as raising relief payment amounts and extending relief periods will need to be considered.

Private organizations are reportedly receiving many inquiries from elderly workers who have lost their jobs. Those who receive little or no pension have the choice to apply for welfare. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has eased requirements to receive welfare benefits as a coronavirus measure. To allow those in need to get appropriate support, the government needs to urge local bodies to take necessary action.

Employment assistance is also important. There is a system in place that lets those who cannot receive unemployment benefits undergo job training while they receive aid, but it has been criticized as unpractical. Training programs should be improved to match the needs of companies.

It has been over a month since the national state of emergency was lifted, but economic activities have not returned to pre-state-of-emergency levels as people are still taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Companies also have a grim outlook for the economy. There is a need to minimize the rise in unemployment while taking long-lasting support measures for those struggling during the ongoing crisis.

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