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Pandemic opens doors to switch jobs in Japan, but pay not rising much

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The  Covid-19 pandemic has unexpectedly helped Japan’s nursing homes and  Information Technology companies overcome years of labour shortages, as job cuts at restaurants and hotels have prompted workers to look for new careers.

This newfound job mobility marks a shift in a country whose rigid labour practices are partially blamed for a long term decline in productivity.

But it is too soon to say whether the change will ultimately lead to higher wages, which are desperately needed to revive demand and growth in an economy that is still struggling to break free from decades of deflation.

For now, the job-hoppers tend to trade one low-paying career for another.

Toshiki Kurimata, who used to make 2.8 million yen ($25,000) a year as a masseur, quit after 12 years as the pandemic caused a sharp drop in customers. Now he works at a nursing care centre and is taking classes to become a registered caregiver.

With that qualification, he expects to earn around 3.3 million yen – an increase of about 18%. The even bigger attraction, he says, is job stability.

“I like working in nursing care and it’s stable,” Kurimata said. “There aren’t age limits on the work and you can find work even if, like me, you are inexperienced.”

Experts aren’t sure whether the job-switching will remain limited to certain industries or become a broader trend.

It is also uncertain whether job switching will continue once the pandemic dies down, although anecdotal evidence suggests people will keep leaving food-service jobs for nursing and IT.

Japan expects to have a shortage of 690,000 care workers by 2040, a tough gap to fill given the rapidly ageing population.

LOW-INCOME

OECD data put Japan’s hourly labour productivity at $47.9, making it about 60% of the United States’ level, the worst among the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies, and 21st

among the 37 OECD members as of 2019.

And the prospect of people being stuck in low income jobs poses a big challenge for Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has pledged to bring more wealth to households via higher wages.

“COVID-19 fallouts are pushing low-paid workers into even harder situations with little, or no, increase in pay,” said Hisashi Yamada, senior economist at Japan Research Institute.

Hospitality businesses have laid off workers, with the number of employees falling to 3.9 million in 2020 from the prior year’s 4.2 million, labour ministry data shows.

By contrast, the medical and health industry saw employees hitting 8.6 million, up 200,000 from 2019. The IT sector hired 2.4 million employees, up 100,000 from 2019.

JOB TRAINING

Vocational training schools have benefited.

SAMURAI, which offers IT training, had 1.7 times more students enrolled as of April 2021 compared with a year earlier, as employees retrenched during the pandemic rushed to retrain.

Most IT jobs on offer for inexperienced workers are for programmers, on the lowest rung of the IT ladder, but they generally still pay more than can be earned in hospitality.

The average annual salary for employees at restaurants and nursing homes amounts to roughly 3 million yen, 30% less than an average Japanese workers’ salary, government data shows. IT programmers earn close to the national average.

“I saw how popular the IT sector was and thought I may land a stable job,” said Koki Shimizu, a 22-year-student at SAMURAI who lost his job as a chef and now is learning to program.

At Crie, which offers training in nursing care, classes that were only two-thirds full before the pandemic are now packed out.

The company’s head Takayuki Nakayama expects the uptrend to continue given steady job offers in the nursing care industry.

“It’s true wages are relatively low in the nursing-care industry. But many job-seekers want stability after seeing the damage inflicted on eateries and other service-sector firms.”

Retailers are also becoming alarmed over losing staff, as they are counting on a rebound in activity as Japan gradually eases COVID-19 restrictions.

Major Japanese pub chain operator Watami is scrambling to hire 100 mid-career staff this year – something it has not done for three years – and it reckons that eventually it may have to pay more.

“1,000 yen per hour may not be enough, 1,500 yen may be needed to attract workers in the future,” said the company’s chief executive Miki Watanabe.

For now, firms are wary of raising pay as the economy is still struggling in the wake of the pandemic.

($1 = 114.0100 yen)

 

(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Leika Kihara, David Dolan & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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U.S. stock futures rise following Friday's omicron-sparked selloff – MarketWatch

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U.S. stock futures rose late Sunday, following a steep selloff Friday sparked by fears of the global economic impact of a worrisome new strain of COVID-19.

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures
YM00,
+0.70%

gained about 230 points, or 0.7%, as of 9 p.m. Eastern. S&P 500 futures
ES00,
+0.92%

and Nasdaq-100 futures
NQ00,
+1.14%

also showed solid gains.

Crude oil futures also rebounded Sunday from a Friday plunge, with benchmark U.S. crude
CLF22,
+5.24%

and Brent crude
BRNF22,
+4.70%
,
the international benchmark, jumping roughly 4% higher.

On Friday, Wall Street suffered its worst day in more than a year amid growing concerns over the new omicron variant of COVID-19. The World Health Organization’s technical advisory group on Friday declared it a “variant of concern,” and a number of countries imposed flight bans from countries in southern Africa, where the variant was first discovered.

Little is known about omicron, but investors Friday braced for bad news.

Read: U.S. health officials urge caution, but not panic, over omicron variant

In a holiday-shortened session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
-2.53%

slumped 905.04 points, or 2.5%, to 34,899.34, with the index logging its worst daily drop since Oct. 28, 2020, according to FactSet data. The S&P 500 
SPX,
-2.27%

 fell 106.84 points, or 2.3%, to 4,594.62, and the Nasdaq Composite Index
COMP,
-2.23%

 sank 353.57 points, or 2.2%, to 15,491.66.

“The pandemic and COVID variants remain one of the biggest risks to markets, and are likely to continue to inject volatility over the next year(s),” Keith Lerner, co-chief investment officer and chief market strategist at Truist Advisory Services, wrote in a Friday note. “It’s hard to say at this point how lasting or impactful this latest variant will be for markets.”

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Canada to Tap Maple Syrup Reserves to Combat Supply Crisis – TMZ

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Canadians to get biggest drop in gasoline prices since 2009 over COVID variant fears – Yahoo Canada Finance

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Canadians should experience the fastest drop in gasoline prices in nearly 13 years on Sunday as fears about a virulent new COVID-19 variant are expected to provide a break of 11 cents per litre at the pumps.

Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy, said the national average price could drop to about $1.32 per litre but begin to rise again midweek.

“(Sunday) represents the single largest decrease at the pumps we’ve seen going back to 2009,” he said in an interview.

Global crude oil prices plunged Friday over fears about a new COVID-19 variant called Omicron that prompted Canada to ban entry for foreign nationals who travelled through southern Africa.

The January crude oil contract fell 13.1 per cent or US$10.24 on Friday and currently stands at US$68.15 per barrel.

The decrease came as U.S. stock markets closed early Friday because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Sunday and Monday are going to be the best days for Canadians to fill up, including British Columbia,” McTeague said

Even residents of flood-ravaged B.C. will save on the province’s high gasoline prices despite facing rationing because severe flooding has shut both the Trans Mountain pipeline and the province’s lone refinery.

Drivers of non-essential vehicles can only purchase up to 30 litres per visit to a gas station in the Lower Mainland, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky area, Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island.

East Coast residents won’t reap the immediate benefits of Sunday’s price drop because its regulated regional system averages price movements. That provides price predictability but blunts price discounts.

Despite the upcoming decrease, national gasoline prices have surged nearly 43 per cent in the past year as the reopening of the global economy from pandemic lockdowns prompted a recovery in crude prices.

McTeague suggested Canadians shouldn’t get too comfortable with the energy savings. He said prices are expectd to increase as OPEC and its allies, who are meeting on Monday, will likely refuse to increase production any further. Energy traders realize that Friday’s decrease was overdone and “flies in the face of fundamentals,” he added.

“My sense is that the decreases that we saw were a little exaggerated and overbought, and for that reason I think we might see a little bit more balance come back to the markets and fundamentals by Wednesday,” McTeague said.

“Unless there’s further unsettling news of greater and further lockdowns, I would expect that oil prices are probably going to recover US$3 to US$4 a barrel by Monday or Tuesday, which means by Wednesday or Thursday we could be looking at increases in the order of four or five cents a litre.”

McTeague said some gasoline savings will continue for a couple of weeks, but he foresees crude climbing back to about US$90 a barrel, which would translate into prices in Canada exceeding $1.50 per litre.

Impending carbon tax increases will further boost prices.

A tax of 2.5 cents per litre, including HST, will take effect on April 1, 2022. It will be followed in December by the clear fuel standard that will add another 18.1 cents per litre including HST, said McTeague.

Adding to the inflation pressure is the Canadian dollar which is less valuable than when it was at par the last time crude prices were around US$80. That reduces the purchasing power for all kinds of products, including energy and food.

The Canadian Automobile Association said that as of early Saturday morning, Manitoba had the lowest average pump price of $1.35/L, followed closely by Alberta at $1.377, while Newfoundland and Labrador was the highest at $1.583 with British Columbia at $1.558.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2021.

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press

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