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Japan: Hakenmura, the Temp Workers Village

Over 300 people spent their nights between New Year`s Eve and the 5th of January in a tent camp stationed at Hibiya Park in central Tôkyô, referred to as 年越し派遣村 (toshikoshi hakenmura, or lit. “New Year's Village for Temporary Workers”). The people staying in Hakenmura were temporary workers (派遣社員, haken shain): Japanese men and women of various ages, with working experience in several fields, who saw their contracts as temporary workers annulled in the last months (according to some estimates between last October and this March, 85,012 temp workers have been laid off), in part because of the effects of the global financial crisis, and in part because of bad administration of the legal system that governs temporary work [ja].

The causes mentioned above are those most often quoted by the traditional Japanese media. Some bloggers have highlighted others, however, pointing out that the high commission paid by companies to temp agencies should also be considered. Blogger Idaten Tasuke (韋駄天太助), for example, explaining the precarious conditions upon which the temp work system is based, stresses how Japanese media have pointed the finger at the social system without considering other elements that may be crucial in understanding the “laid-off temp workers” issue:

毎日メディアで派遣切りのニュースが報道されています。
切実な問題なのでしっかり報道して欲しいと思うが、自分より若い世代が住む場所も失い路上生活に身を落としてしまうのを見ているのは辛い。
しかしながら、メディアは問題にしっかり切り込んでいるのかと疑問も感じる。

Every day the media reports news about the laying off of temporary workers. Since it is a pressing problem I`d like them to cover it properly – it is very difficult to watch people younger than myself without places to live, descending to the level of living on the street. However, I have some doubts as to whether the media are seriously tackling this problem.

[…]

メディアに違和感を感じるのは派遣契約を解除した企業に批判的だが(それはそれで良いのですけど)、何故に派遣会社の責任を問わないのか?
(私の接した情報が偏っているだけですかね?)
企業は派遣会社と契約しているのであって、派遣社員のAさんとは何の契約もしていない。
Aさんに時給何円払うかを決めるのは派遣会社であり、企業は派遣会社との契約で派遣会社に時間極めの人材派遣費用を払います。

The reason I have this uncomfortable feeling about the media is that, although they are very critical toward the companies that annulled the contracts (and I agree with that), I wonder why they don't also raise questions about the responsibility of the temporary work agencies?
(Is it perhaps only the case of the sources I consulted?)
The companies draw up a contract with those agencies, but they have no contract with the individual temporary workers.
It is the temp worker agency that decides how much Mr. A will be payed per hour, and the company pays personnel expenses to the temp agency for the time worked, according to a contract with that agency.

[…]

派遣会社はそれだけ取って、何をしてくれたかと言えば、派遣社員を企業に送っただけです。
[…]
派遣会社が何かトレーニングして送ってくれるかと言えば、そんなものはない。
これだけで(?)、派遣社員が企業に派遣されている限り、毎日(寝ていても?)売上が上がるシステムになっています。
企業が派遣社員を切るなと言われれば、じゃあ派遣社員を頼まないよという話になります。
ボロイ商売、いや、収益性の高いビジネスモデルの派遣会社が批判を受けないのは何故なのか?
派遣社員は安いから使っているのではなく(決して安くない)、ストレートに言えばいつでも契約を切れるから使っているのです。

The rate of the agencies is limited to that and, in simple terms, what they actually do is just send temporary workers to the companies.
[…]
Without any previous training or anything.
Doing nothing more than this (?), as long as the temp workers are sent to the companies, their turnover grows every day (even as they sleep). This is the system.
If companies are told not to fire temp workers, then they will simply not call on temp workers.
So why is it that this bonanza business — a highly lucrative business model, in fact — does not receive any criticism?
The reason why temp workers are employed is not because they are cheap (in fact they aren`t cheap at all) but, frankly, because their contract can be annulled at any time.

[…]

景気の良い時は、この奇妙な三角関係(?)はうまく機能します。
今回の問題は、同時期に大量に契約が解除され、派遣会社が派遣社員に次の派遣先を紹介できないという状況だからです。
セーフティネットを強く求められべきは、企業側ではなく派遣会社だと思うのですが、私の接したメディアは派遣先企業の社会的責任を問う声ばかりです。

When business is prospering, this delicate triangle [company/temp work agency/temp worker] works well.
However, this time around problems arose because many contracts were annulled all at the same time, and the temp work agencies are not able to introduce these workers to other companies.
I believe that if there is a lot of demand for a safety net, then it must be demanded of the temp work agencies, not of the companies. But the voices I've heard from the media have only questioned the social responsibility of temp agencies.

Similarly, Shino Kichi (篠キチ), basing his remarks on his past experience as a temporary worker, casts doubt on the nature of the debate that has arisen recently over the “temporary workers” issue:

派遣の問題であまり話題になってるのを見たことがないんですが、派遣会社が取ってる手数料って相当高い気がするんですよ。
トヨタやキャノンはどうか知りませんが、僕が派遣社員をスタッフとして採用したときは35%~40%くらい取られてました。[…]
これを低くすることって議論されないんでしょうか。

This is the first time that have I seen the “temp workers” issue so debated. I have the feeling that the commission fee for the agencies is quite high.
I don`t know about the cases of Toyota or Canon but, when I was hired as temporary staff, the agency used to get around the 35-40% [of the money that the company pays for the employment of a temp worker]. […] Why don`t they debate reducing that deduction [from the worker`s fee] ?


The night of the 1st January 2009 @ Hakenmura

Blogger at Canada de Nihongo (カナダで日本語) takes the reports on the life at the Hakenmura Village during the holidays as a starting point to emphasize the political responsibilities of those who let all this happen.

予想通り、日比谷公園の「年越し派遣村」には、想定していた人数の倍の300人の派遣切りされた労働者が集まったそうだ。200人分の食事しか用意していないということだったので、足りるのかなと不安に思っていたら、やはり、日比谷公園の施設はパンク状態となり、政府は、近くにある厚生労働省の講堂を解放せざるを得なくなったそうだ。

As expected, about 300 people who had their contracts as temp workers annulled gathered in “New Year's Village for Temporary Workers” at Hibiya Park over New Year's Eve: this was double than what they had imagined. Having prepared food for 200 people, [the organizers] realized that they didn't have enough, and sure enough, just as the facility at Hibiya Park was about to reach its limit, the government was apparently forced to open a lecture hall of the nearby Ministry of Health and Labor.

[…]

今回も、対応の遅れが目立った政府だが、黙っていたら、厚生労働省が「年越し派遣村」のために講堂を解放するどころか何の対策も取ろうとしなかっただろう。与党の政策の失敗で犠牲になった労働者なのに、派遣切りなんて他人事と思っている政府や与党の下心がよくわかる出来事だった。

The government's late response stood out in this case, but if it had kept silent, I doubt the Ministry of Health and Labor would have opened the lecture hall — quite the contrary, they probably would haven't taken any measure [to deal with the situation] at all. Although the temp workers have become victims of the disastrous policy of the party in power [the Liberal Democratic Party], it was a good example demonstrating how the ruling party secretly considers the “laying off of temp workers” as somebody else`s problem.

At the “New Year's Village for Temporary Workers” 200 volunteers helped the organizers with the everyday management of the community, distributing food to the refugees or arranging for them accommodation for the night, etc. One of those volunteers recorded a diary of those days (with many pictures attached) at Tone Nikki (とね日記). On the 2nd of January he jotted down his personal impressions regarding coverage of the situation in the village by the Japanese media.

今日は民主党の菅直人さんもお見えになり、かなり長い時間を使って村民と直接話をしたり、メディアのインタビューに答えていた。[…] メディアは菅さんや「派遣村の村長」の湯浅さんなど有名人の撮影がメインだ。もっと村民や「委員」、ボランティアの状況をレポートすればよいのにと思った。カメラマンしか来ておらず、レポーターが来ていないからだと僕は思った。

Today Mr. Naoto Kan of Minshutô [the Democratic Party of Japan] came [to the Village] and he spent here many hours talking directly with the refugees, giving interviews to the press, etc. […] The media`s interest was mainly with Mr. Kan or Mr. Yuasa (the Chief of the Village), as well as with other personalities. I thought that they should have reported much more on the refugees and on the “members of the committee”, as well as on the volunteers` activity. Probably this was because only cameramen came; no reporters were present.

Further on in the diary from that day, the volunteer reported a conversation with a young man, a friend of a Mr. T (a refugee he used to take care of), who explained to him the harsh situation of those who are in difficult circumstances, especially women.

Tさんの知り合いの青年(30歳くらい?)とも話をした、派遣切りされかけた後、交渉の末に仕事に戻れたそうだが、彼はネットカフェ難民経験者である。彼によると若い女性にも同じ状況の人はたくさんいるそうで、その多くが性風俗産業に流れるか個人営業しているということだ。そしてそういう商売ができない人は明け方のマクドナルドやネットカフェにたくさんいるということだ。そこまでするんだったら親元に戻ったほうがいいのにと僕が言うと、彼は「戻れない人たちばかりなんですよ。ほとんどの女性がいろいろな事情を持っているから。」と教えてくれた。絶句。。。それじゃ逃げ場がない。

I also spoke with a young guy (around 30?), an acquaintance of Mr. T`s. After he was fired, and following some negotiations, he apparently was able to get his job back, but he nonetheless had the experience of being an internet café refugee. According to Mr. T, there are many young women in the same situation; many of them either end up working in the sex industry or have their own private business. The women who cannot do that kind of job just spend the night in McDonald`s restaurants or in Internet cafes. And when I said that those women should go back to their families instead of living these lives, he explained me that “They are people who cannot return. Most of them have issues [in their background that prevent them from returning].” I became speechless… In that case, they have no escape.
Flickr user id:Photowalker uploaded numerous interesting photos of Hakenmura and the temp workers protest at his personal page.

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