Irony of ironies

A brief update on women’s equality in the Japanese workplace. We have a friend whose wife worked in a woman’s center, providing support for people such as victims of domestic violence. She was fired for becoming pregnant.

I propose that she sue them, at which point they would of course be forced to volunteer to represent her as this is a women’s rights issue.

25 thoughts on “Irony of ironies”

  1. This is a perfect example of why the Japanese have such a poor birth rate. Lose your job for getting pregnant? What an absolute abomination.

    There should be an anonymous website for this so that they can publish when these things happen. The common Japanese and the Government would be forced to reconcile the absurdity of the situation.

  2. Outrageous!

    I just spent Sat and Sun for a DV victim support workshop based on an assumption that this type of work is something I could do for many years even after having babies.

    Unlike the US, the J gov. and prefectures barely spend their budget for DV victim service NPOs which are of course women friendly workplaces and understand women’s right to work. Therefore, most of the times, if you want to do DV victims advocate as your job, you need to work for municipal centers and governmental orgs which still easily violate women’s rights like in this story.

  3. Waaait a minuite.Is this the same woman that I know working in the city that I know of?
    I talked to the husband last sunday and he did say something about his wife taking maternity leave but worried that newly elected mayor may cut down budgets which may eventually downsize her workplace.

    Well,this mayor got elected last night and he did say about lowering taxes and rethinking the budgets,but he also promised more support to child rearing related welfares…

    I better get more detailed infos…

  4. Yeah that is her, but I didn’t want to post any more identifying detail that could hint about the location. I’m not sure if she is technically fired, but she told me they definitely wanted to force her out of the job. Is she actually still employed there then? A clarification could be in order.

  5. And I just got the reply from the husband.

    His wife was told that “her contract wouldn’t be renewed because she is pregnant and a kid is a liability”.Don’t know the detail of the contract and considering the nature of her job,this is an irony of ironies indeed.However,this is a bit different from being “fired for being pregnant”.

  6. Well, in Japan “not having your contract renewed” basically IS firing, since it’s so difficult to get rid of someone immediately. For example, I just heard about a story of a friend’s coworker (and this one I REALLY won’t add any more details on!) who was accused of sexual harassment, which is a fireable offense, but since the procedure to fire someone is so difficult they just declines to renew his contract instead.

  7. Not really.
    Number one.Firing someone means you are not just losing job but the proof of the employer finds disatisfaction in the employee.Big difference here in Japan especially when you look for a new job.

    Number two.If you are working on contract basis in municipal related jobs,that means you are a temp,not a proper public servant.Which gives municipal institutions freedom for lay off.Municipal institutions hire temp only as the supportive workforce of proper PS and usually they are not granted the same type of rights as the PS.If and when temps can’t provide the service that the employees are demanding,they would simply be replaced by the pther temp.
    Like I said,I don’t know the nature of the contract the above woman is binded to,and haven’t got the detailed info on working environment,I’ ll be just presenting basic and universal understanding of how things are run in municipal government.

    And three.I think the two cases are completely different.Sexual harrassment IS considered as a severe violation of human rights in Japan nowadays.The story you heard through grapevines on “friend’s co-worker”can be a good reason of firing someone,yet the employee decline to do so probably to conceal the scandal in their workplace.

  8. Roy,
    I’m guessing that “woman’s center” is a Freudian slip. Cf. Women’s Center

  9. It’s a typo, but how would it be a Freudian slip? That would mean that “woman’s center” has some other, particular meaning as opposed to just being an error.

  10. Roy,
    Never mind, and apologies for any confusion.

    To be fair, I don’t think this is a reason that the birth rate is low, but rather contributes to the problems the government is having in getting the birth rate to stop dropping. As for websites, the Japanese Communist Party and other places have addressed this problem, citing various case stories similar to this.

    This goes along with some other comments, but quite explicitly terminating employment on the grounds of pregnancy or birth is illegal, so her employer must have painted it differently, especially if they decided to put it in writing.

    Was the termination notice served in writing, or was it just that they told her something like, “considering that you have a baby on the way, we think that it’s better for the center that we hire someone different when your contract comes to an end”?

  11. I think we are getting too much into the detail of someone we know,and perhaps it’s better to stop here.
    But the logic of the municipal government is probably that they need every workforce they can get and they must be 100% in combat mode to fulfill the task and willing to do so at the expense of one of their pregnant temp.

  12. Aceface,
    Good idea, especially if it’s not prudent to add any more details.

    My understanding of Roy’s point is that there is a disconnect with the mission of her employer and the grounds for her “severance”. My only caution is reaching the conclusion that this kind of behaviour is somehow linked to the stagnating birthrate, or is at all new or unique to Japan. (e.g. A certain mayor of NYC, when he was CEO a certain financial information terminal company, made an errant remark to the effect of “Kill it!” in reference to a member of his salesforce, when told of that member’s pregnancy. He settled out of court.)

  13. I don’t think anyone is implying that it is NEW to Japan. This was also the standard pattern of behavior in the West before the feminist movement (see the show Mad Men for examples) and this is an example of Japan being slower to change, not introducing something novel. I didn’t make any connection to birthrate stagnation in my brief post, but I think it certainly doesn’t help.

  14. “I don’t think anyone is implying that it is NEW to Japan. This was also the standard pattern of behavior in the West before the feminist movement ”

    I don’t think feminist movement has anything to do with this.
    Afterall,what the institution demands is the full operative workforce to tackle on the issues that is more or less feminist movement is asking for,No?
    It’s the contract that matters,nothing more nothing less.

    What is nothing NEW to Japan is the foreigners with blazing guns taking justice in their own hands in the manner of “Absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence”.

  15. Aceface: So are you saying that it was fair or rational for them to basically fire her for having a child? Remember that “It’s the contract that matters,nothing more nothing less.” isn’t necessarily true because contracts can still be illegal even if both parties agree. And of course, something can still be legal without being fair.

    This is closely related with the larger issue of permanent vs. temp work, but the point is that in Japan, large categories of temp jobs are poorly paid and have unfavorable contracts precisely because they are working under the assumption that these jobs are being filled by women who
    a: don’t need as much money because she has a husband making more money
    b: is going to quit when she has a kid, and so doesn’t need a long-term job
    c: (more controversialy) as a woman, doesn’t deserve to be paid as much
    Of course there are also many men working in these positions (see the guys doing the Kyodai strike), but I think that the perpetuation of the two-track labor system, which to this day largely separates the sexes into the two tracks, is a pretty obvious failure of feminism in Japan. You might say that it is a failure of the labor movement as well, but I think that is partly because the labor movement has also been neglecting women’s equality.

    It’s not like the US is perfect in this regard, by any means. Probably Scandanvia is level A, with the US and much of western Europe probably in level B, Japan a little bit behind in C, then-I don’t know, Russia or Thailand or something?(really speculating here…) in level D, etc. etc. and then Saudia Arabia and the other fundamentalist countries in whatever letter last place is.

  16. Here is the situation.
    We have new mayor being elected and his sales point was 10% reduction of taxes and total overhaul of the city’s bureaucracy.How he does it,we don’t know yet.But the most likely would be cutting down temp workers working for the city and restructuring the outreach organizations.Which would lead me to speculate that the very institution in question is now in urgent need to prove the new mayor that their office has no room for cut down.
    The very institution is critically important to the welfare of women in the city and for that they may bent their principles for the defense of the organization.Which indeed contradicts the aim of the institution,yet such things happens when noble ideas are being put into practice where there are budget and political restrictions.

    “Remember that “It’s the contract that matters,nothing more nothing less.” isn’t necessarily true because contracts can still be illegal even if both parties agree. And of course, something can still be legal without being fair.”

    No objection in that regard.But not getting your contract extended is not “being fired”.And remember,this is about the wife of a friend of mine.Ofcourse I’m not happy about her contracts not being extended.However,unlike being fired,there is always a chance of getting new contracts once she can get back on the line.But like I said,I can’t say much in detail or have no intention giving her the advice to take the issue to the court.

    “You might say that it is a failure of the labor movement as well, but I think that is partly because the labor movement has also been neglecting women’s equality.”

    Yes and No.Lifetime employment and Japanese style of corporatism may not be the outcome of the victory of labor movement,because this is the byproduct of wartime industrial policy,however no one can deny that it was the workers who benefited most from this system.And at the time of creation of the system,most,if not all of the members of the unions were males.

    The only solution to this male dominated lifetime employment scheme is changing into American style employment.But with economic crisis hit hard in Japan,especially in this part of the country,this is politically impossible.

  17. ‘American style employment’ – give me a break, LOTS of countries do not now, and never had, ‘lifetime employment’….

  18. Well,try look TOPIX index and find out yourself.Lifetime employment is live and well here in Japan.

  19. Again, my caution is that we stop making the situation described by Roy into something absolutely representative of Japan’s labor environment. As much as I’d like to assume that Japan is still mired in employment trends it had during the 1970’s, there are signs of progress, and the more I read, the more I believe that it’s going to be a a slow evolution, and not a revolution.

    For everyone playing at home, the Labour Laws of Japan are summed in plain English in the following site:

    And the systems to support a work/life balance are neatly tabulated here:

    It is my impression that if the employer has business reasons (read: it don’t got da money) for termination of employment or non-renewal of contract, than when taken to court, the courts may side with the employer. Otherwise, it is worth this employee making a claim against her employer for citing pregnancy as a reason, at the very least so that the employer becomes aware of the consequences of such ignorance of the law.

  20. While I agree that in principles,in reality that decision may work against the woman very negatively.Like I said,it could kill the future opportunity of getting new contract added to the fact that the slow process of legal procedure would takes years to the final judgement.

  21. Well, that’s the problem with civil rights litigation in general. To any one individual it’s usually more trouble than it’s worth, but it can be an essential act in getting policy changes to happen, or at least happen much faster than they would have otherwise. It’s hard to really recommend to someone-they have to want to be an activist. Rosa Parks is of course the classic example-despite the myth she actually volunteered to be a test case, and had the backing of civil rights groups lined up well before the famous bus-sitting.

    I don’t doubt that there has been progress since the 70s on some fronts-but the problems with the temp worker system are well known, and not really addressed by labor law. We’ve discussed the problems with the two-track employment system plenty here, and the backlash against two track employment and unfair temporary contracts has been growing rather dramatically in Japan, as both awareness and the number of people so employed grows. I also expect that the system is evolving, but I’m not prepared to predict what will happen. Sure, the ideal would be a system that combines the security Japanese lifetime employment with the voluntary mobility of the American system but that’s not remotely realistic. What model makes sense, Scandanavia?

  22. They’re not worth fighting, if you fight them in a manner similar to Mr. Den Hollander. What a putz. He should have had Robert Bly do his talking for him.

  23. This is the difference between having people that are passionately committed to whatever issue their workplace focuses on, and having people that are merely doing a job and collecting a paycheck. The latter group often has no problem with doing things that cause this kind of cognitive dissonance. The former would not do something so incredibly counter to women’s rights.

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