TOKYO | unemployment has not exploded in Japan since the pandemic, unlike many other countries. But this apparent resilience may be explained by a chronic problem of the country, its shortage of labour, and mask deep inequalities between workers.
The unemployment rate in Japan is set to 2.9 % in may, according to data from the ministry of internal Affairs published on Tuesday, after 2.6% in April.
The major job losses were again recorded in the sectors most sensitive to the guidelines of social distancing: in the hotel, catering, recreation, or trade.
However, economists do not expect a sharp increase in unemployment in the coming months, predicting a rate of about 4 % at the end of 2020.
The reasons are primarily demographic: the archipelago suffers from a shortage of labour in the face of the strong demographic ageing of its population, with 28 % of the Japanese aged 65 and older.
The gap between supply and demand is markedly reduced in may compared to April, but remains positive, at a rate of 120 job openings for 100 applicants.
Japanese companies have a tendency not to lay off, because if they did they might find it hard to recruit once the crisis is over, writes Munehisa Tamura, an economist from the institute of research Daiwa.
Under the law, “the firms cannot easily lay off in the event of a temporary deterioration in market conditions”, which means that unemployment does not rise sharply, “even during an economic shock,” said Mr. Tamura, who was interviewed by the AFP.
Another factor that constrains mechanically the increase in the rate of unemployment: the active population has fallen significantly since April, where a million people have left the labour market, especially women to care for their families. Few of them are already handed in quest of a job.
The government has also launched huge plans to support the economy, including subsidies to businesses, in order to preserve their jobs and pay wages.
But the strong duality of the labour market nippon, between his job holders well-protected, and nearly 40 % of jobs “irregular” (temporary contracts, part-time, temporary…), the articles of association often precarious, is exacerbated with the crisis.
Some 4.2 million employees, or about 6 % of the active population, were unemployed part-in may. One in two was employed illegally.
These people are still attached to their employer and are therefore absent in the unemployment figures, but some of them touch momentarily less than the threshold legal minimum of 60 % of their salary, or nothing at all.
“I was asked to stay at home, using my paid leave”, told AFP under cover of anonymity, an employee who is not the holder of a group of restoration to Tokyo, the technical unemployment since the end of march.
But its a few days of paid leave have been quickly exhausted; since early April, “I have not been paid, zero,” growls he.
For a japanese company, “zero redundancy is a condition for touching the total of all grants” from the State, explains to the AFP Tetsuya Obayashi, a leader of the union Shutoken Seinen, who represents the interests of non-regular employees.
But in the meantime aid to arrive, or that the economy is improving, “it is easier for companies to let their non-regular employees in limbo (…). They are nothing other than a variable of adjustment in convenient,” says Mr. Obayashi.
Immigrants are an ultra-minority in Japan (about 2.7 % of the economically active population in 2019), but are over-represented among the irregular workers, as are the women.
“Currently, I’m touching less than 10% of my salary,” said Geraldine, a maid in philippine for hotels in Tokyo. “I have nearly exhausted all my savings.”
Geraldine the risk of having to take his evil in patience. Because only a small portion of State aid to enterprises has been distributed for the moment, in particular because of the cumbersome nature of the administration of the japanese, few converted to digital.
Services and small and medium-sized enterprises have hardly used to solicit such aid, designed historically for the industry and large groups. This may explain the reluctance of some companies to call, according to Mr. Tamura of the institute of research Daiwa.