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From Employment Security to Managerial Precarity: Japan's Changing Welfare-Work Nexus and its Impacts on Mid-career Workers

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In the postwar period, Japanese workers came to symbolize the economic and cultural prosperity of Japan. In return for their hard work, they were rewarded with life-time employment and various fringe benefits. This postwar social contract of "corporate welfarism" minimized the social risks and personal career uncertainties of a fluid labour market. However, nearly 30 years of economic recession and neo-liberal reforms have undermined the postwar model of corporate welfarism. Structural and management reforms have been invoked to reengineer Japan's corporate practices and to "flexibilize" the workforce, thereby "freeing" employees while offloading social risks of economic uncertainties to individual workers. As a result, these Japanese workers are caught between the slippage of the older corporate ideology of corporate welfarism premised on long-term employment, and the rise of the new global ideology of neo-liberalism premised on labour mobility, in the process exposing them to new social risks and conditions of uncertainty.
By focusing on mid-career and experienced workers whose expectations of long-term employment were directly affected by restructuring, this article sheds light on the various forms of "precarious employment mechanisms" that have been used to cut personnel costs while avoiding outright dismissal. Drawing from different cases of informants who have been subjected to various forms of restructuring, this article highlights the decoupling of Japan's welfare and employment systems and examines the mechanisms and experiences of "in-house unemployment" for employees in an increasingly hollowed-out corporate welfare society.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2020

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