COVID-19 & BHR RESEARCH PROJECT
Non-regular Employment, Gig Workers, and Informal Workers
The rate of non-regular workers in Japan was approximately 38% in 2019, with women accounting for two-thirds of this rate. The number of people who work self-employed as their own main business and are not employed by others (such as individual contractors, freelances, cloud workers, and home occupation) is amounting to about 1,200,000. (JILPT, results of surveys and estimates of people who engage in “Employment-like Working Style”, ). In this chapter, non-regular workers, gig workers, and informal workers are collectively referred to as “workers in non-standard employment”.
Efforts have been made in Japan to redress the inequalities between regular and non-regular workers, such as equal pay for equal work. There remain in general, however, the cases where labor protection for non-regular workers is not sufficient, in comparison with regular workers, especially wages or compensation, employment security, social security, skills development, and protection from liability for compensation. Besides, gender gap is disproportionate in these ways of working.
The multifaceted economic and social impacts and limitations associated with responding to coronavirus have left many non-regular workers in vulnerable situation, resulting in impoverishment and infringement of their rights unless adequate protection being provided. Unfortunately in Japan, unemployment of dispatched workers, poverty of single mothers and women working in entertainment sector, and homelessness of day laborers and online cafe refugees have been reported. From overseas, it has been reported that the insufficient social security or support for gig workers who provide delivery services, and the situation where they have no choice but to continue working with an exposure to infection risks. Such gig-workers reported to organize a large-scale strike, and dismissed informal workers have to receive food assistance for keeping them alive.
In order to address these situation, efforts have been made at both the international and national levels to apply social insurance benefits to those non-standard employment even though they have not contributed to the insurance. Whereas in Japan, there are measures to provide social benefits and livelihood support to individuals and to provide financial support for businesses so that they can maintain the employment.
For Japan's business, the majority of business seem to have a lot of relationships with gig workers, non-regular workers and self-employed. As a recommendation to Japanese companies, it is important to conduct human rights due diligence on whether workers in non-standard employment and their families fall in poverty, whether they are forced to continue their work with risks, and whether their business operation, including those in supply chains, do not make adverse impacts on human rights.
Gig workers and freelances who rely on their income solely from working outsourced online, and families who are dependent with those workers are particularly vulnerable and provided less social security protection than regular workers. Among those, there are particularly vulnerable people who may be in immediate poverty if they lose job (e.g., single mothers). Conversely, even if they have work, they are forced to accept outsourcing offers for keeping life even if they are somewhat dangerous. In addition to ensuring safety and health, it is desirable to consider tangible and intangible support based on their needs. In addition, it is also useful to give sufficient information or help accessing to the government’s livelihood support and counseling services, as well as those provided by labor unions, and NGOs where available.
It is also important for companies to secure the employment of non-regular workers to the extent possible, and to endeavor to ensure safety and health, provide accurate information, give sufficient guidance on the social security system, ensure equality with regular workers, and give due considerations to gender-sensitive measures, while referring to requests from the government for appropriate business considerations (refraining from terminating contracts, extending delivery deadline, and other flexible responses) and requests from local governments, as well as measures taken overseas.
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Business and Human Rights Lawyers Network Japan
Emi OMURA, Akiko SATO, and Daisuke TAKAHASHI
C/O Research Center for Sustainable Peace (RCSP),
The University of Tokyo
3-8-1 Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, 153-8902, JAPAN