TOKYO – With a new law aimed at stopping harassment in the work place set to enter into force in Japan in June, freelance workers and sexual minorities are casting a wary eye on how effective it will be in improving their situation and say individual efforts will be vital in bringing about a change.
The law requires firms to take measures against harassment by people in positions of power, with a government guideline designating such acts as including physical and psychological attacks, making excessive demands and isolating workers from others.
But only large firms will initially be subjected to the law, with smaller firms set to follow in April 2022, and the government will not require companies to extend the measures to freelance workers as they are not regarded as employees.
“I have been routinely subjected to verbal abuse at workplace. I have thought there’s nothing I can do,” said a 43-year-old man who has been working freelance in the video industry for over 20 years.
He said his clients and people who give him instructions have made unjustified complaints or often tried to skip making payments.
“I can’t really do anything for fear I may not get another job offer,” he said, adding he wants firms to face reality and strengthen measures against harassment.
Last year, a survey targeting freelance workers in the entertainment and publishing industries revealed about 60 percent of the respondents have experienced harassment by people in positions of power.
A mail survey by Kyodo News, conducted between January and February targeting 110 firms, found 48 firms do not plan on taking measures to prevent harassment against freelance workers, with some saying there is no need as they do not employ such workers.
Meanwhile, 53 firms said they have already implemented measures or plan on doing so, with many saying they are taking measures regardless of whether workers are regular employees or on a contract or part-time basis.
“In addition to firms taking measures, each and every one who works must understand that rules for preventing power harassment have been set and are done so to better (the environment),” said Mari Hirata, representative of the Freelance Association in Tokyo.
In addition, sexual minorities say many people’s lack of understanding about them has resulted in the harassment they have received.
The government guideline says the outing of and insults about a person’s sexual orientation and gender identification are a type of “power harassment” that should be covered by the new law. They also call for people’s privacy to be protected.
The new law comes amid a rise in the number of students who include their sexual identity when applying for a job and as more companies try to accommodate their needs.
The Kyodo News survey showed 104 of the 110 respondents said they will, or plan to, hold staff training to increase awareness about the types of harassment.
But weeks before the law’s enforcement, there continues to be harassment by people in power positions against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Some have complained their sexual identity has been revealed against their wishes by their boss, while others say they were laughed at for “acting like a woman.”
Yuri Igarashi, a co-head of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, urges firms to hear the opinions of the LGBT people in order to gain an accurate picture of the issue.
“If they can empathize and learn, they will help facilitate measures” against harassment, Igarashi said.
“The management’s stance is important,” she said. “We want them to deepen their understanding and send out a clear vision about the issue.”