In recent years, many have called out the Japanese government and major corporations for not working hard enough to stop overwork and other forms of workplace abuse. Cases of karoshi and allegations of power harassment seem to nab headlines every month.
Past surveys have shined a light on the various forms of harassment some communities face at work. Another demographic that’s extremely vulnerable is non-regular public servants (非正規公務員; hiseiki koumuin) working in welfare, education, administration, and more. A preliminary survey released this month shines a light on the rampant harassment many face simply because of their job status.
Looking at the Numbers
The group behind the survey is Hiseiki Koumuin voices (非正規公務員voices), a collective of mostly anonymous employed and retired non-regular working women. Of the 531 respondents, 68.9% experienced some form of harassment or discrimination. Women made up the largest demographic at 84.7%, with most respondents in their 40s and 50s.
Perpetrators were overwhelmingly regular workers – 63.7% were bosses, and 23.3% were regular employees. Power harassment was the most common type of harassment reported at 62.4%. Other forms of harassment included taking on full-time work, paying for training out of their own pocket and being addressed as “part-timer” instead of by name.
The negative effects of all this harassment led to many experiencing health problems, including poor sleep and chronic headaches. Some ended up quitting.
Journalist Takenobu Mieko, who helped analyze the data, pointed out how the superior position held by regular employees coupled with a “hire to fire” mindset encourages harassment .
Raising Their Voices
Emboldened and fed up, many are starting to speak out about their experiences. In one headline-grabbing case, a former Japan Post non-regular literally couldn’t speak after her boss slapped packing tape over her mouth and ripped it off. This “prank” as he called it forced her to take time off and ultimately quit after the postmaster failed to take her seriously.
Following a diagnosis of depression, she sued her former boss and Japan Post and successfully won after the court recognized the correlation between the harassment and her struggling mental health .
A woman in her 50s spoke anonymously to Chugoku Shinbun about the unfair treatment she deals with as an office worker at a school. Staff ignored her greetings, and her personal belongings were often taken and hidden from her. Some called her a “wage thief” (給料泥棒; kyuuryou dorobou) behind her back when she called out sick.
When she complained to management, they reportedly told her she was replaceable. “Is this the kind of thing that’s acceptable in an educational environment teaching children about compassion and equality?” she said.
Another anonymous civil servant experienced the financial and social disparities the hard way. Her salary is one-third of regular employees, despite her years of experience. She doesn’t qualify for overtime pay, yet she still has to pay the same amount in membership fees and workplace parking fees .
Who’s to Blame?
One case in particular has drawn national attention to why no one should take harassment of any kind lightly. In 2015, 27-year-old Morishita Kana died by suicide after struggling with depression due to harassment from her part-time job. Morishita, an aspiring child clinical psychologist, started work at a child and family consultation center in Kitakyushu in April 2012.
According to her coworkers, Morishita’s boss harassed her and overburdened her with more work than she could handle, even making her cry. In January 2013, she was diagnosed with depression and took a leave of absence, but was forced to quit at the end of her one-year contract .
Following her death, Morishita’s mother Mayumi filed a lawsuit against the city seeking 3.1 million yen (around $21,000) in bereavement compensation. The Fukuoka High Court dismissed her lawsuit earlier this year, but Mayumi didn’t give up. She argued that workplace harassment and overwork contributed to her daughter’s depression and death. “My daughter isn’t coming back, but even now there are those suffering like she did. I want this verdict to be of help to them” .
But on September 7th, the court finalized their decision that no causal relationship existed. Even if it did, the court reasoned, the cause of her stress would’ve disappeared after her resignation. (As if recovering from depression is that simple. In my opinion, this reasoning shows a clear lack of knowledge on how debilitating and pervasive depression is even in the absence of an external cause.) Events that occurred during the two years between her resignation and death, such as her failure to pass a state examination, would’ve had a greater detrimental effect on her mental health .
Attempts have been made to improve the lot of non-regular employees. This year the government expanded bonuses for non-regular employees starting fiscal year 2024. But clearly, more needs to be done. It involves addressing the social disparities and dispelling the stereotype that non-regulars are less than human. They deserve a voice, too.
What to read next
 「無理やり性行為された」の声も…非正規公務員の深刻なハラスメントと差別 500人調査、7割近く被害. Tokyo Web.
 上司が女性の口にガムテープ ショックで退職 日本郵便に賠償命令. Mainichi Shinbun.
 私物隠され、あいさつ無視され「生意気なのよ」 つらすぎる非正規公務員の嘆き. Chugoku Shinbun via Yahoo! News Japan.
 非正規公務員だった娘が自死 「同じ苦しみない社会」願う母の思い. Asahi Shinbun.
 北九州市の元職員自殺 公務との因果関係認めず 高裁が控訴棄却. Mainichi Shinbun via Yahoo! News Japan.