Inter-Subjective Differentiation between Regular and Non-Regular Employment in Japan: Increasing Labor Market Flexibilization and Legitimization of Reward Inequality

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 14:30
Oral Presentation
Shin ARITA, University of Tokyo, Japan
In line with the increasing flexibilization of the labor market, the number of non-regular workers, whose working conditions and rewards are much less favorable than those of regular workers, has increased in many countries. This is also the case in Japan.

Japanese non-regular employees, however, are unique in how they are defined and measured; they are captured in official statistics not based on objective working conditions, such as period of employment contract or working hours, but based on respondents’ self-identified appellations at the workplace (e.g. “regular worker,” “contract worker,” or “part-time worker”). In this study, I use the analysis of social survey data and statements from the authorities concerned to explore the differences in circumstances of regular and non-regular workers in Japan, particularly focusing on why they are counted based on their appellations.

On the basis of the research results, I argue that the distinction between regular and non-regular employees in Japan is an inter-subjectively constructed categorization of workers to which not only differences in objective working conditions but also differences in expected duties, responsibilities, and skills/abilities are attached. In Japanese companies, which do not have rigid job differentiation based on stipulated job description, human resource management relies heavily on the distinctions that accompany even differences in assumed duties and abilities. Moreover, the assumptions regarding differences in duties and abilities that are attached to the distinction between types of employment play an important role in legitimizing large reward inequalities between regular and non-regular employees. Results suggest that the categorization of workers and the assumptions made about these categories of workers contribute to the emergence and reproduction of labor market inequalities in Japan.