Neoliberal means to liberal ends? The Abe Government's campaign to Reform the Japanese Way of Work

Charles Weathers (Osaka City University )
Scott North (Osaka University)
Shinji Kojima (Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University)
Economics, Business and Political Economy
Torre B, Piso 3, T11
Start time:
2 September, 2017 at 11:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

We analyze the Abe Government's employment reform campaign, especially work hours, temporary agency work, and women's employment. The utilization of neoliberal strategies through imbalanced policymaking institutions means that disadvantaged workers, such as care workers, will gain little benefit.

Long abstract:

The Abe Government has made hatarakikata kaikaku, or Reform of the Japanese Way of Work, central to its campaign to stimulate economic growth and stabilize the population. Many of the Government's objectives -- reducing work hours, reducing wage inequality, and promoting gender equal opportunity -- are usually associated primarily with liberal rather than conservative reformers. However, it is attempting to achieve these objectives primarily through free market or neoliberal-type reforms. This is especially evident with regard to the country's excess work hours: Rather than strengthening worker protections, the Government intends to weaken regulations and change pay systems to encourage workers to work more efficiently. Similarly, policymakers almost completely deregulated temporary agency work in order to enhance labor mobility, but the evidence suggests that temp work has aggravated wage inequality and undermined safety. In addition, the Abe Government is promoting gender equal employment opportunity, especially by bolstering support for childcare and elder care; that will certainly assist parents in white-collar occupations, but the policies provide little help for the care workers (nearly all women), who are among the worst paid workers in Japan. Nor do the reform policies help workers in the other majority-female occupations, such as teaching or library work, troubled by long work hours and substandard pay; rather, these problems are being aggravated by greater use of agency temps and other non-regular workers. Our panel will explore hatarakikata kaikaku, focusing on work hours, temporary agency work, and women's employment. We argue that the Abe Government's reliance on conservative policymaking tools, such as policymaking forums that largely exclude representatives from major social/occupational groups (such as women) mean that the resulting policies will benefit well-paid employees but do little for disadvantaged workers. While recognizing that neoliberal reformism does not necessarily preclude positive outcomes, we emphasize that the extreme weakness of the left results in a severe imbalance in policymaking influence. Buttressing this point, the three presentations complement policymaking analysis with field work-based examinations of groups that are struggling to resist Abenomics reforms and to strengthen the rights of workers affected.