The Netherlands has the largest proportion of part time workers who are women amongst the 34 OECD countries – 61.1% compared to 36.2% in Japan, which is ranked 7th. The employment rate for women is 69.6% (6th out of 34) in the Netherlands, compared to 63.2% (#15) in Japan.
One major difference between the two countries which helps account for this is that in the Netherlands, women can change from full time to part time work with the same employer without losing any of their benefits as permanent full time members of staff.
The Nikkei Business magazine describes days in the lives of several Dutch women, who have high profile, senior jobs, but work 4 days a week and pick their children up from school on their bicycles. It points out that if Abenomics is really to achieve its goal of 30% of managerial positions to be occupied by women by 2020, the whole of Japan is going to have to be much more flexible in its working arrangements, otherwise “it’s just building castles in the sky”.
The Dutch work the fewest hours in the OECD, but average salaries are higher than Japan, showing that they are highly productive. Dutch cannot understand the Japanese concept of “service overtime” (doing unpaid overtime to show loyalty to the company).
There is also very little in the way of Japanese style seniority based pay. The same pay for the same work has deep roots in Dutch society.
Part time employment boomed in the 1950s in the Netherlands to enable young childless women to work in a time of labour shortage. In the 1970s, with deindustrialization, part time work became more common in the service sector. However women were meant to stay at home to look after the children. The turning point came in the early 1980s. After the oil shock, the Netherlands lost industrial competitiveness, and there was negative GDP growth, but wages did not fall, known as the Dutch Disease. The Wassenaar Agreement of 1982 between employers’ organisations and the unions exchanged wage restraint for increasing part time work and shorter hours and thereby reducing unemployment and inflation. This also had the consequence of enabling women to take up employment.
There was a gap in benefits for part time and full time employees, just as in Japan now, but from the 1990s the concept of equal pay for equal work was promoted. Furthermore, the Working Hours Adjustment Law of 2000 means that employees have the right to adjust what working hours they will do in agreement with their bosses, eliminating “service overtime”.
The Dutch government has also invested heavily in childcare provision, but as the Nikkei Business magazine says, the biggest difference with Japan is the role that men play. It is much more acceptable in Dutch society for men to choose their working pattern based on childcare needs. The norm is for 2 working parents to do 1.5 of a full time job. And of course working from home is much more accepted than in Japan. “Without an environment where men can participate in childcare, childcare services and a revision of working hours, there is no way Japanese women will be working more than they currently do. It has taken the Dutch 30 years to change their labour market, and this raises questions for Japan” concludes Nikkei Business.
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