Work Sharing during the Great Recession

Work Sharing during the Great Recession

New Developments and Beyond

Edited by Jon C. Messenger and Naj Ghosheh

‘Work sharing’ is a labour market instrument devised to distribute a reduced volume of work to the same (or similar) number of workers over a diminished period of working time in order to avoid redundancies. This fascinating and timely study presents the concept and history of work sharing and explores the complexities and trade-offs involved in its use as both a strategy for preserving jobs and a policy for increasing employment.

Chapter 4: Work sharing in Japan

Kazuya Ogura

Subjects: economics and finance, labour economics, public sector economics, social policy and sociology, labour policy


In recent years, the debate on work sharing in Japan has become increasingly active, particularly since around 2002, when the annual average unemployment rate reached a historic high level of 5.4 per cent. In Japan, particularly from the time of the 1970s’ oil crises, it became customary for many companies to adjust the volume of employment through increasing or decreasing overtime. By maintaining a certain amount of overtime on a constant basis, dismissals were not suddenly required when business decreased and thus employment levels were maintained. At the same time, rather than recruiting large numbers of new workers when business increased, the existing workforce handled the situation through overtime to a certain extent. Over the following decades, overtime hours became the most typical method by which Japanese companies’ adjusted to changes in market demands. Adjusting the workforce to market fluctuations via overtime can be seen as a type of work sharing that is already in practice. The scale of this adjustment is quite large, and will be estimated later in this chapter.

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