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2008年12月30日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 29(IHT/Asahi: December 30,2008)

EDITORIAL: Surging unemployment


They have only a bag, some clothes and a few coins in their wallet. A growing number of people like this can be seen on the streets as the year nears its end. They are dispatch workers and other laborers who have suddenly lost their jobs and been forced out of their company dormitories.


After perhaps just a few nights of restless sleep in Internet cafes, they run out of money. Their wallets are empty, but they can't bring themselves to sleep in a park, so they wander aimlessly through the streets all night.


Even in normal times, there are few job offers for day workers in the holiday season between the year's end and early January.


However, this year, things will be worse. In times past, once the New Year holidays ended and the nation got moving again, temp workers could expect to find new jobs. This winter, that is not likely to happen.


Moreover, a significant number of people have just recently lost jobs in factories and other places. These people are spending nights on the streets for the very first time.


In late November, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimated that about 30,000 nonregular employees would lose their jobs by next spring. Within a month, that estimate nearly tripled to 85,000.


Some people have killed themselves in despair. Others, falling ill, cannot afford to see a doctor. Some have gone so hungry that they've turned to stealing money for food. The situation is critical. How can things have come to this pass?


Citizens groups and labor unions have jumped into action, prompted to somehow support people driven into such dire straits. They are offering consultation services, providing meals on the streets and helping displaced workers negotiate with their former employers over compensation.


Some groups are strongly urging the central government ministries and local governments to take countermeasures. Such moves all offer much-needed help to those in need.


Meanwhile, the operators of izakaya pub chains and of a Tokyo-based cram school have both offered to hire people who have lost their jobs. Some local governments have moved quickly ahead of the central government to temporarily offer public housing to desperate jobless workers.


Much more can be done. Local community halls could be used as shelters. Temples, gymnasiums and corporate facilities that are not in use could also become temporary refuges. We urge local communities to go ahead and use their resources to help the unemployed.


But in sharp contrast, the central government and the Diet appear lethargic. Why are they so slow to act?


Here's a proposal for Prime Minister Taro Aso: Why don't you walk around the capital city in the dark, freezing night, and listen directly to the earnest voices of those who have suddenly lost their jobs and homes?


Employment security has virtually collapsed. To prevent more people from becoming homeless, the government must create a new social safety net that will save people from joblessness, bankruptcy or other calamities.


It can happen to anyone at any time, even tomorrow. If one was fired today, it would not take long for one to realize that the existing systems to help the jobless are extremely frail and unreliable.


If workers are not covered by unemployment insurance, then they have no financial support to fall back on when they lose their job. Next year, larger numbers of jobless people will end up relying on social welfare.


Previously, some local governments around the nation had refused to accept welfare applications from young people, instead just telling such applicants to get a job.

Such welfare offices must change their attitudes immediately.


We also need to review the way the nation's workforce is treated. Many observers previously feared that nonregular workers, with their weak position in the labor pool, could be too easily jettisoned by companies adjusting staffing levels. That prediction has come true.


So what kind of a labor system is needed to prevent this from happening and protect workers from being discarded at will? How should the worker dispatch law be revised?


As this year draws to a close, with its expanding waves of economic recession, we must again think about these problems and find solutions.



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