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Hi Blog. Here’s a submission from Debito.org Reader CR, about the application of the “five year rule” of Japanese Labor Contract Law in Japan’s blue-chip companies. Although the 2013 revision in the law was meant to say, “five years of contract renewals means you must rehire the person as a regular employee (sei sha-in) without a contract” (which would end the exploitative system of unstable employment through perpetual contracting), it’s had the opposite effect: encouraging employers to cap the contracts at five years. Meaning that starting from April 1, 2018, five years since the revised Labor Contract Law took effect, we’re expecting to see a mass firing of Japan’s contract laborers.
This is precisely what has been happening to Japan’s non-tenured foreign academics for generations in Japan’s Academic Apartheid System, with the occasional “massacre” of older Japanese contracted academics just to save money, but now it’s being expanded systemwide to the non-academic private sector. We’ve seen rumblings of its application at Tohoku University for everyone. But of course we have to make it even worse for foreign workers: At Canon, one of Japan’s flagship companies, NJ are being given special “temp” employment categories with contracts explicitly capped at five years from the outset. One more reason to read your employment contracts carefully, if not avoid entirely the increasingly unstable and segregated jobs in Japanese companies. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
Date: December 8, 2016
Long-time reader, few-times commenter. I’m contacting you because I think this would be a good follow-up to your post about the 5-year massacre issue.
I work as a translator for Canon. Although I don’t work at the 本社 (HQ), I am a Canon Inc. employee.
First, let’s just get this out of the way: you are welcome to use any information I provide here in your blog (and I am willing to get additional information as far as I am able), but I would prefer to remain anonymous.
At Canon, NJ are hired as “プロ社員” (pro sha-in), which basically means “contract employee”. Note that there is also a “Jプロ社員” (J-pro sha-in) category, as Japanese can also be hired as contract employees (my understanding is Japanese who are 中途採用 (chuuto saiyou, or halfway hires) start as contract employees, but can move to 正社員 (sei sha-in, or regular non-contract workers) within a year or two; I don’t know the conditions for this, however).
The contracts are typical one-year contracts with the option of renewal, provided renewal is the desire of both parties; basically the standard you would expect. As you know, in 2013 the revision to the Labor Contract Act came into effect, essentially giving contract employees an avenue to become 正社員 regular non-contract workers after five years of continuous, contract-based employment (the earliest this could happen for an employee is then April 1, 2018). This, presumably, was designed to help people like myself achieve greater employment security.
Here’s the thing. Apparently, after the revision to the law, and I’m not sure of the exact date that they started doing this because to my knowledge there are not really frequent hirings of NJ and nobody I’ve spoken with seems to know, NJ hires have a clause in their contract stipulating that there will be no further renewal after their period of employment reaches the 5-year mark. Potential hires are informed of this before or during the interview process, apparently, so those in the know can make an informed decision. However, it is also my understanding that there are people who were hired before this change took place and are being grandfathered in; in other words, the 5-year limit clause is not being added to their contracts, and presumably they will be able to become 正社員 when the time comes, but newer NJ hired will not.
Obviously I’m pretty incensed about this, it’s difficult to work in an environment where there are clear discriminations such as this. Note that while I believe the discriminations are racially-based, the only thing that is visible is based off nationality. I don’t know how the company handles NJ who have naturalized, or even if any naturalized Japanese citizens are among the employee ranks. It rankles even more because there are always various “Compliance”-related initiatives, announcements, and activities, to show employees how important it is to play fair, not discriminate, follow the rules and the law, etc.
So, big, established, famous, international Japanese companies are already putting discriminatory clauses that violate the spirit, if not exactly the letter, of the law into the contracts of NJ. Also, this effectively puts the kibosh on any potential promotions of NJ; you cannot be promoted as a contract employee. The glass ceiling is alive and well.
It would be nice to this get some attention and change as a result, but I won’t hold my breath about changes, at least.
All the best, CR
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9 comments on “CR on how Japan’s blue-chip companies (Canon) get around new Labor Contract Law: Special temp job statuses and capped contracts for NJ”
CR, thank you for sharing. I feel your pain.
However, let’s not forget that this is the same Japan Inc. that had whistleblower CEO of Olympus Micheal Woodford running abroad in literal fear for his life when he called them out on criminal malpractice, so we should hardly be surprised that NJ further down the Japan Inc. pecking order are routinely discriminated against.
Like the abuses of the trainee/technical intern system, until NJ get their own fingers burned by J-Inc. lies, they all fall for it hook, line, and sinker, and willfully ignore all warnings.
Just for a counter point and not to diminish what this guy has said, I was made a perminant contract employee this year (a year before the deadline of 5 years). I work for a company of similar size as Canon however not in translation. One condition of becoming a 正社員 (company man) is that you agree to do other things and be transferred to other areas of the company, just like a Japanese. If you make it clear that you are willing to expand your role past translation then your company may be more inclined to keep you. Of course, Canon is a tech. Company and technical translation is not something you can do without expertise in the company culture and products. This makes swapping out people at a whim a poor choice if you want to maintain the quality of translations. So I don’t agree that technical translators are disposable employees, however you might find more success in ‘moving up’ to a perminant contract if you are willing and/or capable of expanding your role in the company. People who could do this stay. People who can’t, are let go. You can argue the merits of that system if you like (and I have opinions on this good and bad), but it is better to have all the potential motivations on the table before discussion, and I think in this case, you could be missing one that is unrelated to discrimination.
I recently saw a conbini close that had many non Japanese working there, with of course some J staff who were sempai etc. Interetingly, many of those same J staff appeared in a rival conbini down the road, but non of the non japanese were to be found. Coincidental and inconclusive? Perhaps, but I bet if you asked those non Japanese if they were reassigned, they would tell you no.
This is CR, the person who contacted Debito about this issue.
In response to Mark at number 2, you make some interesting points that I’d like to address. While it does stipulate in my contract that my duties are that of technical translator, and my place of employment is the office fhat I’ve been at since I was hired, it is also stipulated that the company can freely change either of those things based on its needs. What that means for the relative likelihood of a location transfer or change of duties I can’t say, but on paper it’s at least as likely as it is for non-contract employees (正社員). So in practice I have already agreed to such things simply by signing the contract.
Furthermore, as far as my duties go, the actuality is that I am asked to do much more than just translate, and all of those extra tasks are either not specifically related to English translation in particular or are completely unrelated to being bilingual or having a translation skillset at all. So I’m already doing some of that other stuff.
So, I would suggest that the situation NJ find themselves in at your company affords them not only more opportunity in general but more autonomy in informed decision-making. In other words, those who want the permanent position can then choose if they also want to subject themselves to the possibility of having to uproot their personal lives and relocate across the country. Just to be clear, is my understanding correct that, at your company, if you are NOT 正社員, there is zero possibility of being relocated accorfing to the needs (AKA “at the whim”) of the company? Also, if I may ask, what is your field?
Of course, none of this is neither here nor there when it comes to the shiftiness of the sudden 5-years-max clause that’s been added to the contracts of all NJ.
This is awful, but I greatly appreciate individuals speaking out against these situations. Thank you so much for your efforts to make this more known.
To be honest, wouldn’t this at the very least be open for the option of a civil lawsuit due to the obvious aspect of discrimination?
Bunch of racist sexist assholes.
Eleven years ago my wife, who was a very talented designer and web producer go to the final interview for a great seishain job only to be asked by the oyagi personnel director some very personal questions, including about her husband.
As soon as he found out that I was a gaijn, that was it. He actually said to my wife, well that’s no good because you’ll probably leave Japan with your family.
My wife was so angry she wanted to kick him. I’ve never bought a Cannon product since.
Hi CR (response 4)
Many thanks for your reply. It is good to hear some extra context for your original post and I’m grateful you took the time to respond to my comments. Anyway, here I go.
CR said “While it does stipulate in my contract that my duties are that of technical translator, and my place of employment is the office that Ive been at since I was hired, it is also stipulated that the company can freely change either of those things based on its needs.”
Same as my contract.
CR said “Furthermore, as far as my duties go, the actuality is that I am asked to do much more than just translate, and all of those extra tasks are either not specifically related to English translation in particular or are completely unrelated to being bilingual or having a translation skillset at all. So I’m already doing some of that other stuff.”
I’m the same. I am aware that this sounds like “well I’m the same so what are you moaning about?” but that is not my intention. The meat of my argument is below.
“What that means for the relative likelihood of a location transfer or change of duties I cant say, but on paper its at least as likely as it is for non-contract employees (正社員). So in practice I have already agreed to such things simply by signing the contract. So, I would suggest that the situation NJ find themselves in at your company affords them not only more opportunity in general but more autonomy in informed decision-making. In other words, those who want the permanent position can then choose if they also want to subject themselves to the possibility of having to uproot their personal lives and relocate across the country.”
Here is where I think discussion of the difference should focus. The culture of companies such as Canon, and the expectations of non-contract employees are so different to those in other countries that, myself included, cannot imagine being a Japanese working in this culture. I have the luxury of refusing forced location but due to the culture, the Japanese staff do not. They also work long hours, have their job content and office changed at a whim. In extreme cases, are ordered abroad for years at a time with a few months notice, or yanked back after 10 years happily living abroad. In return for that, they are essentially guaranteed a job for life, given a massive pension plus other benefits. For me, none of the benefits are something I am interested in. And one can certainly argue that the Japanese, regarding this type of company culture, should do extensive realignment of their core values and priorities. I’m not advocating that the system as it is, is a good thing. I am saying however that the culture is what it is. Unless you are indispensable to the company, they are probably not going to put up with the “flexible” way of thinking regarding non-contract employees. I can refuse to be part of the culture because of the nature of the hole I fill as an employee here. I’ve seen several foreign employees offered non-contract status only after they agree to expand their role and skills to become more valuable to the company. Once a certain value is reached, the company will “bless” you with non-contract status. To the company, this is a significant commitment, which is why it is not given out without equivalent commitment from the other side also.
CR said “Just to be clear, is my understanding correct that, at your company, if you are NOT 正社員, there is zero possibility of being relocated according to the needs (AKA “at the whim”) of the company? Also, if I may ask, what is your field?”
I’m an engineer.
I’ll add a bit more context also I think. My comments above could be boiled down to “make yourself indispensable and they will make you a non-contract employee”. This has a certain amount of truth to it in any country or company. However, due to the nature of the “company man” in Japan, the threshold for entry into this “coveted” status is high. I can see this best exemplified by the “mistakes” made at new hire that every boss saddles with these “mistakes” comes to regret. Once you join the company, they can’t get rid of you. If you hire a bad egg, that stinks the place out for 40 years (or until a rare, almost unheard if, company restructure that allows management to scrape off some of the chaff). This is a fatal weakness to the hiring system at large Japanese companies and something I am fundamentally against. I cannot justify it professionally. However, as part of this system, as a believer in this system, as your bosses no doubt are, would you risk giving their coveted status to just anyone? A job for life? They can’t get rid of you?
People can argue that this is discriminatory and unfair. I agree. But the argument should be about the company culture, and not about the fact an employee is non-Japanese. I can’t speak for your boss. Perhaps he (a comfortable assumption I think), doesn’t trust a foreigner enough to make them an employee for life. And perhaps that is the bad type of discrimination. The problem is that cultural discrimination gets conflated with foreigner status. I always try to avoid this conclusion unless there is plenty of evidence. Is it OK to say “well he’s a foreigner and they *all* have these values that are incompatible with our way of working therefore we can’t hire *any of them* as a non-contract employee”? I’ll agree that is bad. If that is genuinely what is happening in your company, I’ll agree you are being hard done by.
@ Mark #8
Thanks for the input, but I’m a little confused about some of the points you’ve made. First:
“The culture of companies such as Canon, and the expectations of non-contract employees are so different to those in other countries that, myself included, cannot imagine being a Japanese working in this culture.”
Unless I’m missing something, you’ve basically regurgitated the party line here: “it’s cultural difference, and you don’t/can’t understand it because you’re not Japanese.” Please correct me if I’m wrong on that.
You went on to make this point: “…due to the nature of the ‘company man’ in Japan, the threshold for entry into this ‘coveted’ status is high.”
You elaborated what you regard to be the “nature of the company man” in the previous paragraph, but I have to point out from my own experience (which, granted, is a small sample size, but you likewise only speak from your own) that it has little basis in the reality of what it means to be a 正社員. Yes, some folks who become 正社員 deal with some of the challenges you’ve presented, but based on my experience, plenty of people who become 正社員 change jobs later anyway (becoming 正社員 at many companies over the span of their career) or never do anything of significance within a company as a 正社員. Suggesting that once a person becomes 正社員 that he or she is with the company “for life” is a cute dream, but little more. On the flip side, as we’ve seen from the slave labor–I’m sorry, foreign trainee program, people with no prospects within the company are most certainly not exempt from the burdensome demands you’ve ascribed to the 正社員.
I’m not suggesting you are completely wrong–I’m sure many of the big name Japanese firms do have the sort of corporate culture you’ve described. That it inherently goes with the territory of all 正社員, however, has little basis in reality.
I’m also going to go out on a limb here and speculate that the 正社員 status is intentionally talked up as a means to try to justify not giving it to NJ, whom are presupposed to be unable to live up to it. The standard (which does not necessarily reflect the reality) is intentionally inflated and overstated to keep NJ out; few who know this try to dispel the myth.
Again, not that nobody is working long hours or what not, as we know from the 過労死 figures that some certainly are, but that standard is synonymous with all 正社員, incompatible with all NJ, and therefore most NJ cannot become 正社員 is several very generous leaps in logic.
“…the argument should be about the company culture, and not about the fact an employee is non-Japanese…would you risk giving their coveted status to just anyone?”
They don’t give it to “just anyone,” but status as a 和人 plays a huge role in whether you receive it. The company culture, too, plays a huge role, indeed. The problem is that often the standards of that culture are, owing to racism, applied unevenly. A good example is that of attribution bias. When a 和人 employee makes a mistake, fails, is late, etc., it is because he/she is just a mere human, and we all make mistakes. It is forgivable. When a NJ makes mistakes, it’s because they’re not Japanese, so they’re lazy, unreliable, stupid, not hard-working, so of course you can’t really count on them–it just gets added to a pile of reasons to discount them and their work.
Now, going back to your original presumption of “you don’t/can’t understand because you’re not Japanese”: Why do we assume Japanese people comply with the demands of the system under which they live as a result of anything other than the same reason people all over the world comply with the systems under which they live? No job = no money = can’t support yourself and family. All these “high standards” that these “company men” submit to are simply that–the demands they must meet to keep that job, to make that money, to support their families. If NJ are never even given the chance to enter into that system, how could they understand? They can’t understand the system because they’re not Japanese…but because they’re not Japanese, they’re never given a chance to understand it. This is a catch-22, isn’t it? Are we supposed to believe that if NJ were suddenly all given the chance to enjoy truly secure, well-paid work for the trade-off of extra demands (you know, like what these mythical 正社員 company man superheros do), they would all turn it down in favor of contracts and part-time jobs? Please don’t insult others’ intelligence like that.
Finally, “The problem is that cultural discrimination gets conflated with foreigner status. I always try to avoid this conclusion unless there is plenty of evidence. Is it OK to say ‘well he’s a foreigner and they *all* have these values that are incompatible with our way of working therefore we can’t hire *any of them* as a non-contract employee’? I’ll agree that is bad. If that is genuinely what is happening in your company, I’ll agree you are being hard done by.”
…isn’t that exactly what CR stated was happening within his organization?
Quote: “NJ are hired as ‘プロ社員,’ which basically means ‘contract employee.’ Note that there is also a ‘Jプロ社員’ category, as Japanese can also be hired as contract employees (my understanding is Japanese who are 中途採用 start as contract employees, but can move to 正社員 within a year or two…)” Yep, NJ = damned from the start. No thanks.
As an aside, I am 正社員 with my employer and was hired as such from day one. I work in an all-Japanese company (I am the only NJ) doing a job exclusively in Japanese with no restrictions on my job duties due to nationality.