TOKYO -- Staffing agencies and other companies have been listing jobs at Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games venues for hourly wages of up to 2,800 yen (about $25), while volunteers are set to work for free while performing some of the same tasks.
A 20-year-old female university student in Kanagawa Prefecture recalls feeling something wasn't right when she received emails in the autumn of 2019 from a staffing company with which she was registered. The emails were offering part-time jobs, boasting, "High hourly pay: International sports event in summer," and asking, "Why don't you join this once-in-a-lifetime event for students with your friends?"
Though the job ad only said "international sports event," it obviously referred to the Olympics. The student had already applied to work as a volunteer, and was supposed to help spectators at the games. The job description in the ad resembled her task as a volunteer.
"I wasn't sure how I felt about it," she said. "It was as if volunteers were being considered as mere free labor."
The student said that she intends to withdraw as a volunteer partly because she mistrusts the Japanese government's handling of the games, arguing that it has not heeded the opinions of experts who have cautioned against holding the international sporting event amid the spread of coronavirus infections.
According to the games' organizing committee, tasks such as supplying food and drinks at venues, security services and taking equipment in and out are commissioned to certain business operators. While more than 100,000 people from some 500 firms are expected to be involved in this work, the businesses don't have a sufficient number of full-time staffers to perform the jobs and therefore are hiring part-time workers. These businesses apparently avoid mention of "the Olympics" in their job ads because only sponsors are allowed to use the name.
Details provided by those who have applied for the part-time jobs reveal that many of their tasks are similar to those expected to be performed by volunteers, such as overseeing spectators -- like the work outlined in the job posting the female student received by email.
A 21-year-old male university student in Chiba Prefecture, meanwhile, applied for a part-time job to guide people involved in the games at the Makuhari Messe convention center in the city of Chiba. The hourly pay is as high as 2,800 yen for late-night work.
The student also has a part-time job at a restaurant that pays him around 1,000 yen an hour, but the eatery has cut working hours due to the pandemic, reducing his income to about one-third of what he used to earn before. He revealed that he applied for the Olympic job in spite of his questions about holding the games, because otherwise he would "run out of money to study."
An 18-year-old male university student in Tokyo similarly put his name down for a part-time job to help manage spectators because he wanted "to contribute to a world-class event" in his hometown and was unable to apply to be a volunteer due to the age restriction. He is slated to work at Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo's Koto Ward for about 10 days during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Another Tokyo man in his 20s also applied for a part-time job to oversee spectators. He admitted he feels guilty when he thinks of volunteers, who will not be paid. "Volunteering is a well-intentioned act," he said. "While I think the sense of accomplishment is different, I think it would be better to at least keep the pay for part-time workers at the minimum wage."
It has been said that volunteering comes with the benefits of non-monetary rewards, experience gained and interactions with fellow-minded people. Volunteers are also supplied with uniforms, which will serve as keepsakes.
But how exactly do their tasks differ from those of paid workers? An official at the organizing committee explained, "Volunteer work does not require qualifications (in principle) so anyone can participate. There is a huge difference in the nature of the work of volunteers and that of commissioned staffers, such as the length of the work, their roles and whether or not they will be held responsible for the tasks they perform."
Nonfiction writer Ryu Homma, author of "Black Volunteer," covering the issue of exploitation of volunteer workers, noted, "Jobs for paid part-time workers and volunteers are practically the same." While acknowledging that operators have more of a sense of security by hiring paid workers, who are bound with contracts, than they do by enlisting the help of volunteers, Homma said, "Explanations have undeniably been insufficient, as volunteers are not informed that part-time workers are being sought for the same tasks. Unless measures such as improving the treatment of volunteers and providing cash payments are taken, more people will pull out from volunteer work."
(Japanese original by Taisuke Shimabukuro, Tama General Bureau)