The other night I went to a seminar on Japan and various labour issues, in particular the merit of "lifetime employment". In Japan this term refers to the kind of (typically coveted) jobs that typically offer the employer an employee who (typically) wont quit and go elsewhere to work, a worker who will put up with insane hours and limited holidays in return for the company (sometimes) subsidising accommodation, offering health insurance, pension payments, salary increases based on age, twice a year bonuses and varying degrees of other perks.
In the teaching world perks means things like research budgets, in some cases access to the library, paid membership to professional associations, office space etc.
As I've previously opined, it's fundamentally unfair: an apartheid system of haves and have nots - more or less. But even a lot of those who seem to be beneficiaries of the system, the haves, don't necessarily like it. A major problem is that it creates a large working underclass, the majority of the working population, who don't get pay rises, in many cases receive minimum wages, have lesser professional status, and minimal job security. As I have mentioned in the "internet refugees" post, the tax system is designed for couples. One person of a couple is a dependent (usually women), a system that pushes wages to artificially low levels. For example a number of the office staff at the universities I have had contact with are graduates of the university (prestigious universities) and receive pocket money wages of less than 10$ an hour. Where people are locked into minimum wage jobs, their capacity to contribute to the economy as a consumer is really limited.
From the point of view of full time workers, the system isn't that good either. They have the security and benefits, but the unlike the part time workers who are locked outside of the system, the full time workers are trapped inside the system. They work horrendous hours and have minimal time with family. Furthermore, it's often the practice of companies in Japan to ensure that workers in the company are jack of all trade generalists, rather than people who develop specialty in a specific area. This means that the worker has no particular expertise to sell and options to move company are few, and often simply don't exist at the same rate of pay and benefits. In some industries this is less prevalent - particularly in finance and high-tech - but in many cases people will become the junior of people who are younger and less experienced, simply on account of time spent in the company. (A former colleague who had taught for a couple of years, went overseas, did a Masters, came back to the private school where we worked together as a junior to teachers with less experience.) If you find yourself in a company where you don't like your colleagues, it's really hard to do anything but either endure until retirement or quit - (see the internet cafe refugee video). The system doesn't encourage (or permit) further education and developing transferable skills that would give employees options outside the company seems to be deliberately thwarted by companies.
The system doesn't allow for flexibility that would benefit the worker. For example people working from home, working 3-4 days a week with the same professional status, starting late or leaving early. The lack of flexibility pushes women in particular out of the job market.
The woman who gave the seminar, who is active as a lawyer in the US Chamber of Commerce had many criticisms of the system. There was little sense though of the human effect. The problem for her was that it was difficult for companies to sack people, and the remedy, for her was to make people more sackable. She was imbued with the neoliberal scare tactics that companies won't come to Japan if workers are hard to sack. She was condescending about workers deriving identity from the company where they work (this can be a problem, but worker pride in their workplace has positives as well) and cited an example of a "freeter" who worked for several weeks as highly skilled temp staff and then went to Disneyland until her money ran out as an ideal situation...
Premising decision making on what is good for corporations doesn't seem like the right starting point. Making the worker the enemy also doesn't seem like a constructive starting point.
To be continued