Abe's Labor Reforms May Boost 'disposable' Workers, Crimp Wages

2014 SUZUKI BOULEVARD M109R BOSSYumiko Kajiwara is a cheerful 46-year-old who has had several part-time jobs, including sorting clothes, cosmetics and cellphone parts at a Tokyo warehouse. She also represents a challenge to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Kajiwara is part of a big and growing pool of part-time, temporary and other “non-regular” workers left out of the stability and security of Japan’s storied lifetime employment system.

After losing a steady job two decades ago when the small electronics firm she worked for went bust, she says she has “job-hopped from workplace to workplace, having to take jobs as a temp, part-timer or contract worker at best.”

“All the while, I’ve wanted to become a regular employee, but I couldn’t afford to choose jobs as daily living takes priority.”

Abe, in office a year, has found little traction so far with plans to unclog Japan’s sclerotic labor market. But now his government wants to ease rules, which could make it easier for companies to replace regular “salarymen” with temporary contracted workers.

Businesses and many economists say a freer flow of labor - where easier firing allows easier hiring - would make for more robust and durable growth, one of Abe’s main goals for the world’s third-biggest economy.