A new survey conducted by the Japanese government found that nearly half of female temp workers faced discrimination as a result of being or becoming pregnant while in employment.

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has published the results of a new survey with responses from roughly 3,500 female workers who have been pregnant or given birth while in work. The survey, which was carried out in September and October this year, targeted 25- to 44-year-old women who have work experience, including women who had worked as temporary workers, permanent employees, contract employees, and part-time employees.

Regarding the difference in worker types, temp workers are sent from a staffing agency while permanent and contract employees (and part-time employees) are hired directly by the company. Temp workers often work the same hours and bear the same responsibilities as other workers and can work at the same company for multiple years, but they do not necessarily receive equal treatment. Contract workers are similar to temp workers in that they work (usually full-time) on a contractual basis and must renew their contracts regularly, while permanent workers enjoy stable long-term employment.

The results indicated that 48.3 percent of women who had worked as temp workers and 21.8 percent of women who had worked as permanent workers had experienced “maternity harassment.” The rates for contract employees and part-time employees were 13 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

“47.3 percent of the women reported being told that they were getting in the way”

In this case, maternity harassment, often shortened to the portmanteau “matahara” in Japan, is defined as facing discrimination as a result of being pregnant or giving birth. In responding to a question about what sort of maternity harassment they faced, 47.3 percent of the women who said they had experienced maternity harassment reported being told they were getting in the way or being asked if they were going to quit. Furthermore, 21.3 percent reported having their contracts cancelled and 20.5 percent reported having been laid off, while 17.1 percent said that their bonuses (often an important aspect of compensation in Japan) were unfairly calculated. Additionally, 15.9 percent reported being pressured to quit or change to non-permanent employee status. The question allowed multiple answers.

In addition to the type of harassment, the survey also included questions about who the harassers were. Included respondents indicated that the source of their harassment included direct male supervisors (at 19 percent), direct female supervisors (11 percent), female subordinates and co-workers (9.5 percent), and male sub-ordinates and co-workers (5.4 percent) among others.

It is, of course, illegal under Japanese law for an employee to be fired or pressured to take a reduced role or position due to pregnancy or giving birth. It is also illegal to refuse to reinstate employees following maternity leave.

Sources: Huffington Post Japan, TV Asahi, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Featured image: Wikipedia/Øyvind Holmstad