Companies in Japan's service industries are struggling to hire and retain staff as the labour market becomes the tightest in decades, and are increasingly taking unorthodox steps to alleviate the shortage. David Pollard reports.
It's not the heaviest of lifting. But if you're retired and/or a housewife - you're in demand .... As extra workplace muscle. A current two-decade low in the jobless rate is good news for Japan ... Bad news for firms who can't get staff. Especially if those firms can't afford to offer higher wages either. (SOUNDBITE) (English) HEAD OF CORPORATE DEVELOPMENT, 7IM, JUSTIN URQUHART STEWART, SAYING: "There's always been a big problem and that is actually getting Mrs Watanabe to go out and spend more money. Mrs Watanabe has always been very good at saving. And so therefore what you've had is actually a country which hasn't had a high consumer strength to it. Also you've had a wage issues being managed by companies. And so therefore actually with low levels of inflation, low levels of wage rises there hasn't been that level of demand." The ratio of companies complaining of labour shortages at a 25-year high, according to the latest Tankan survey.... Different companies taking different steps to deal with it .... McDonald's is targetting housewives. But at the same time, scaling back on its 24-hour operations. In fact, four out of five companies in another survey say they may also need to cut back on services. Others appear ready to defy Mrs Watanabe after all .... Delivery company Yamato is one to have raised prices by 15 per cent - its case, the first such rise in nearly three decades - to spend more on staff. Even so, a country known for orthodox work practices may need even more unorthodox thinking - on one particular front. (SOUNDBITE) (English) HEAD OF CORPORATE DEVELOPMENT, 7IM, JUSTIN URQUHART STEWART, SAYING: "Something else which hasn't really happened in Japan: allowing more immigration. So people come in as foreigners working there on a longer scale not just on a part time basis. Then they'll find themselves with a workforce which is actually far more flexible." Until that happens, older workers aren't uncommon in an ageing demographic - Japan may need to call on more and more of them. Though that's unlikely to be a problem for a retired population that still appears flexible - and willing enough .... To keep an economy in shape.