Izumi Niki and her co-authors have recently published “Working precariously within the social welfare system in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic,” in the Asia Pacific Journal of Social Work and Development. In this article, Izumi Niki, Viveka Ichikawa, and Izumi Sakamoto highlight the experiences of  non-regular workers in Japanese municipal governments during the pandemic. In particular, they found increased employment instability and feelings of powerlessness, compounded by the pre-existing systematic oppressions.

Izumi Niki is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. She is the author of the article, “Policymaking Process for Foreign Care Workers in Contemporary Japan: Changes and Continuation.” The authors of this article are also the co-authors of a book (in Japanese) exploring anti-oppressive practice. Izumi Niki’s current SSHRC-funded dissertation research examines care work, migration, and intersectionality for women from East Asia living in Canada.

ABSTRACT

The global COVID-19 pandemic exposed structural inequality perpetuated by neoliberalism. essential workers, including helping professionals, have experienced a high-stress level. This pilot study examined the challenges faced by social welfare workers in Japan during the pandemic. Japanese social welfare departments in municipal governments, which are primary providers of public assistance and social services, are staffed by government officers (GOs, permanent government employees) and non-regular frontline workers (NRs, hired on annual contracts, predominantly female, covering direct casework). Informed by narrative inquiries, five individual interviews of GOs and NRs were conducted. The thematic analysis highlighted the increased employment instability, individualisation, and powerlessness among NRs. NRs expressed intensified stress from the safety risk, long working hours, and insufficient organisational support. Stratified by different types of contracts, resultant tasks, and genders, NRs experienced intensified isolation, leading to burnout. The implications of working precariously in the pandemic under the neoliberal social welfare systems are discussed.

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