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2009年11月30日 (月)

雇用不安 新成長戦略で働く場確保を

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The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 30, 2009)
New growth strategy needed to protect jobs
雇用不安 新成長戦略で働く場確保を(11月30日付・読売社説)

At the end of last year, a large number of manufacturers across the nation fired temporary workers even before their work contracts expired. To help those who lost jobs, a civic group set up a tent camp, called Toshikoshi Hakenmura (village for temporary workers to see out the old year), in Tokyo's Hibiya Park. A year later, the country's employment situation has grown even more serious.

How effective will the government's emergency employment measures be? The government must do all it can to alleviate the severe employment situation as the year-end approaches.


Situation in rural areas bleak

Kitakami, a city located in the southwest of Iwate Prefecture, has some of the leading industrial parks in the country. Blessed with vast plains and abundant water, the city capitalizes on its good location connected to an expressway.

With a large number of leading companies having set up plants there, the city until recently enjoyed a reputation as having successful industrial parks where a variety of industries are concentrated. Yet the tide of recession is sweeping toward the city.

At Iwate Toshiba Electronics Co., a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary located in an industrial park in the northern part of the city, a vast plot of land lies vacant next to the firm's semiconductor plant.

Toshiba announced in 2008 it would build a new plant in Kitakami to produce cutting-edge NAND flash memory products. But the firm decided early this year to postpone construction of the plant due to flagging sales of semiconductors and a serious downturn in business. The site for the planned flash memory plant will soon see its second winter.

Under the initial plan, the plant was scheduled to start operation in spring 2010 and employ about 1,000 new workers.

About three years ago, the ratio of job offers to job seekers in the city rose to about 1.9 thanks to companies that flooded to the city to open new plants. As a result, the city ran short of workers. But now, the job-offers-to-job-seekers ratio has nosedived to about 0.3. Kitakami Mayor Akira Ito awaits the day when Toshiba decides to start the construction.

The mayor has been visiting companies with branches in the city, asking them to hire even one more employee, in what he calls his "plus one" campaign.

This situation is not confined in Kitakami, but can be seen across the country. NEC Corp. has closed its liquid crystal panel plant in Izumi, Kagoshima Prefecture, while Honda Motor Co. postponed operation of its new plant in Yoriimachi, Saitama Prefecture.

Listed companies' midterm earnings reports for the period ending in September showed that their business performance is improving. But they are still cautious about making capital investments as they strive to cut costs to be globally competitive.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry announced Friday that the number of jobless people was 3.44 million in October, while the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.1 percent. The nation's job-offers-to-job-seekers ratio remains at a low level, at a seasonally adjusted 0.44.

Under its slogan of "From concrete to people," the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatomaya touts a policy shift that allocates taxpayers' money to programs related to people's lives, rather than to public works programs, as was seen in the past. This policy shift has slashed the number of public works projects, which local economies rely heavily on, dealing a heavy blow to the economies, which were already suffering from the ongoing wave of corporate restructuring.

The government, which compiled emergency employment measures in October, has begun studying additional employment measures for inclusion in the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2009.


Bolder steps needed

With the number of jobless rising, there are fears of downside risks for the economy, making it vitally important for the government to come up with new bold measures.

The pillar of the emergency employment measures is the provision of assistance to those who have lost their jobs and are in poverty and distress, and to new graduates, as well as the creation of jobs, mainly in such areas as nursing care, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, for about 100,000 people by the end of this fiscal year.

With the measures, the government aims to make the Hello Work job placement offices one-stop centers that, as well as helping unemployed people find jobs, can also help those who have become homeless as a result of losing their jobs find accommodation. But these measures are nothing new.

Meanwhile, to encourage firms to temporarily lay off rather than fire employees, the government will ease requirements for receiving a governmental subsidy to defray costs relating to layoffs.

Steps such as these would go some way to protecting jobs. But subsidies like the one for firms furloughing workers should be expanded, while the government should carefully design job-training programs.

The ratio of college students graduating next spring who have received unofficial job offers hovered at around just 60 percent as of October, leaving the job situation for job-hunting college students extremely tight. To avoid creating a generation of unemployed people, it is an urgent task to boost such assistance.

What is probably important in the mid- and long term is to expand job opportunities.

Although the government has set a target of creating 100,000 jobs, that figure is dwarfed by the number of jobless, which has ballooned to 3.44 million.

Expanding cooperation among the sectors of agriculture, commerce and industry will reinvigorate these primary industries and boost tourism, the government should mobilize all workable policy steps so as to create more jobs in rural areas.


Domestic industries at risk

Job-creation measures will also directly lead to measures to prevent the hollowing out of domestic industries.

Driven by fierce price-cutting competition for their products at home, more and more companies are shifting their production bases out of the country, further reducing the number of job opportunities. As a result, the Japanese economy is in danger of falling into a vicious cycle in which it becomes increasingly anemic.

For such reasons, the government needs to hammer out a new growth strategy that will revitalize domestic industries and regional economies.

The promotion of new industries that can capitalize on Japan's strong points, such as those in the area of environmental protection, will generate economic vitality and create jobs. The government needs to present a clear-cut vision to give domestic industries and regional economies hope for the future.

In this respect, the key will be to generate demand in other Asian countries for Japanese goods by reinforcing product-development and export strategies targeted at consumer markets in Asia.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 30, 2009)
(2009年11月30日01時11分  読売新聞)


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