[ Nippon Keidanren ] [ Journal ]
Messages from "Economic Trend", April 2007

The "Problem of Economic Disparity" requires careful discussions and employment measures that can ensure sustainable development

Shoichiro SUZUKI
Vice Chairman of the Board of Councillors, Nippon Keidanren
Chairman, Oji Paper Co., Ltd.

Amid Japan's declining childbirth rate and growing senior population, and the decrease in the working population, it has become essential to increase productivity through innovations and to secure manpower to support these innovations in order to ensure the sustainable development of the nation. For this reason, we must implement measures that are based on new ideas, and which are not limited by conventional approaches to employment.

Fluidity of the labor market is an essential prior condition for resolving the imbalance in labor-related supply and demand between industries and between individual companies. It will be important to reconstruct the system based on thorough deliberations between labor and management, with the understanding that this will bring about a transition in past systems such as "lifetime employment," "wage systems based on seniority," "retirement allowances," and "company pensions."

At the same time, it will be necessary to use a wide range of manpower, including young people, women, and seniors. Many young people who missed out on employment opportunities during the so-called "ice age of employment" have become trapped in the categories of "permanent part-time workers" or "NEET (Not in Employment, Education, or Training"), and we must quickly implement aggressive employment measures to provide employment support for persons such as these.

Promoting a healthy "Work/life" balance is another key approach that companies can take in dealing with the declining childbirth rate and growing senior population. This will involve putting in place an environment that is adaptable to the diversification of employment formats; for example, temporary staff, part-time labor, telecommuting, and independent work styles that are not subject to regular working hours or other conventional employment.

I question the wisdom of making simplistic judgments that "promoting structural reforms and increasing economic efficiency through market principles" has encouraged economic disparity. There's no doubt that some statistical materials indicate increases in the Gini coefficient and the poverty rate, but most of these statistics are based on data from early 2000's; that is, before or immediately after Japan's economic recovery, when a variety of reforms were first being implemented. In order to discuss "whether or not economic disparity is growing," it is important to conduct more careful deliberations on how the currently expanding economy has affected this disparity.

It goes without saying that the sluggish economy has added momentum to the problem of economic disparity, and I believe that encouraging continued growth and development in the economy is the most effective way of resolving this problem.

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