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Consider Japan

Chapter III

Jobs for a Lifetime

APART from Some 22 million self employed people and “unpaid family workers” on Japanese farms and in small family businesses, there are three main types of employee in Japanese industry.

At the end of 1961 there were 15 million male and 6.6 million female “regular employees”; these are the luckiest ones, and their system of employment is described below. There were also 860,000 male (and 660,000 female) “temporary employees”; about half of these are generally temporary workers who go back to the farms in summer, while others are on trial to become regular workers; but it is among these men that sackings occur when business conditions turn awry. Finally, there were three quarters of a million male (and half a million female) day labourers, who are employed only on days when work is available.

The ambition of every young Japanese is to be taken on as a “regular worker” in a reliable firm straight after leaving full time education. To become a regular worker in a big firm he is likely to have to pass a written examination and aptitude test set by the firm itself, even for an ordinary job as one of the firm’s factory hands. Once taken on, he is safe for life, because the firm will make every effort never to lay him off as redundant, will steadily raise his pay according to his age, will train him and will promote him up the hierarchic ladder of a Japanese factory (often with every minutely different grade even on the shop floor given a different title) according to his length of service. In return he is expected never to leave for a rival firm – at least not after he has reached maturity, although there has recently been some trek of men in their very early twenties from smaller firms to bigger ones. Because of this wage structure and training system, Japanese employers are extraordinarily unwilling to take on new workers over the age of 30. (“The unions would make us pay such workers according to their age,” said one industrialist to your correspondent, “but new older workers would not have had ten years’ training for the particular jobs we want.”) The following figures tell their own story:

(1) School leavers have never had it so good. The 15 and 18 year olds leaving school in 1961 were faced by between two and three times as many jobs (admittedly not all as “regular workers”) on offer as there were applicants. Big firms (those with more than 1,000 employees) managed to fill over 99 per cent of their vacancies for regular plant workers, but small firms (30 to 99 employees) could fill only 77 per cent. In interesting reaction to this, some of the smaller firms (whose total wage rates have hitherto been only about half to three quarters of those of big firms) have now actually started to pay bigger initial wages for school leavers than the big firms. But this is a relatively new development of the past few years.

(2) Despite this scramble for school leavers, in 1960 only about half of the (fortunately relatively few) Japanese who lost their jobs after the age. of 30 were reported to be able to find new wage earning employment at all (and even then, according to one official survey, “old people [over 35 years] ... are re employed mainly as watchmen, stockmen, etc.”); the rest reverted either to be family workers on the farms or in cottage industries, or to become day labourers. (In Tokyo by 1960, 94 per cent of the unhappy army of casual day labourers were over 30 and 51 per cent were over 50.)

A similar recognition that new jobs are likely to be offered to young people only is shown by the age structure of the half million or so Japanese who are leaving the farms each year for jobs in industry. of those who left in the first half of 1961, 58 per cent were under 19, and 92 per cent under 34; among the second and younger sons of farmers (but not necessarily among the elder sons and therefore heirs), the trek into a manufacturing job when one reaches one’s teens is now virtually complete.