Japan to tighten gender law to keep women at work

Updated: Nov 20 2005, 05:30am hrs
Japan plans to toughen its gender equality law in an effort to encourage women to stay in the workforce as the population begins to shrink, a government official said on Friday. The Health and Welfare Ministry will propose an amendment to the 1986 law that would ban employers from treating women unfavourably because they are pregnant or have young children, the Nihon Keizai newspaper said.

Employers would also be prevented from firing a woman who was pregnant, or who had a child under a year old, unless they could prove that the employees family situation was not the reason, the paper said.

With the population falling, we need to create the kind of environment where talented people can make the best use of their abilities, the official at the Health and Welfare Ministry said. She said she could not comment on details of the proposals, which are not due to be finalised until the end of the year. The 20-year-old Equal Employment Opportunity law has done little to improve womens status in the Japanese workplace.

Female employees are paid on average only two thirds of a mans salary and just a tiny minority are promoted to management. One economist said in a report last month that increasing female participation in the workforce was the most realistic way of improving Japans sliding ratio of workers to retirees.

Current forecasts show Japan will have only two workers for each pensioner within the next 30 years, Kathy Matsui of investment bank Goldman Sachs said. Boosting the number of working women could also give the economy a lift through greater growth in consumption of certain goods and services, Matsui said in the October report. Japanese women currently tend to resign their jobs on giving birth and return to work, often on a part-time basis, when their children become independent.

Only 55 % of all Japanese women work, compared with 62% in the US. The amendment to the law will be presented to parliament next year, the Nihon Keizai said. There were signs of an increase in female participation in government panels, Kuniko Inoguchi, the minister for sex equality. The percentage of women taking part in such committees reached the government target of 30 % in September, she said.