Government Career, Legal Career
Instructor of Legal Practice, Chuo Law School
1. Entering the legal profession after 13 years as a public official
This spring marked 26 years since I graduated from university in 1992. I can’t believe how time has flown by. I spent the first 13 of those 26 years working as a public official in the field of labor administration. For the last 13 years, I have worked in the legal profession. Specifically, I left my position at the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) in spring of 2005 for the opportunity to study at the Chuo Law School and fulfill my legal apprenticeship. It has been a little more than 8 years since I started my current profession as an attorney.
2. My career as a public official
In 1992, I entered the Ministry of Labor (precursor of the MHLW) as a public official specializing in economics.
I applied for the position with the hope of working to create social systems that would bring happiness to working people.
Analysis of labor economics
While working at the Ministry, I spent the greatest amount of time analyzing labor economics. Labor economics must be analyzed from both a short-term perspective and mid-term/long-term perspective, followed by a policy review. However, policy targets in a short-term perspective and those in a mid-term/long-term perspective often appear difficult to reconcile, with incongruent aspects existing at both sides.
For example, consider the Japanese economy around the 1990s. At that time, Japan was in the midst of prolonged economic stagnation following the bursting of the economic bubble. Accordingly, when viewed in the short term, measures to create employment and address unemployment were among the most urgent policy agenda. However, from a mid-term/long-term perspective, Japan’s shift to a society with a declining population was obvious, so important policy agenda included increasing the labor participation among the elderly and securing sufficient amounts of labor participation. Amidst such conditions, there was a concern that if employment of the elderly was promoted to meet the long-term goal by extending the mandatory retirement age, the unemployment rate would face additional increase in the short-term without increasing the total amount of job openings.
Through my work in analyzing labor economics, I strongly felt the importance of balancing short-term and long-term perspectives when drafting and implementing policy.
Toward ratification of the ILO Convention
In summer of 2000, I was appointed to a position in charge of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and worked to obtain ratification of ILO Convention No. 182 (Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention).
Amidst heightened international momentum for banning child labor, this Convention defines the following cases as the worst forms of child labor; (1) all forms of slavery, (2) use in prostitution or pornography, (3) use in illicit activities, and (4) use in work harming the health, safety, or morals of children, to which priority must be given for banning and abolishing. The Convention banned these worst forms of child labor and there was hope for quick ratification by member countries throughout the world.
However, Japanese officials involved in the Convention at that time recognized that it would be extremely difficult to ratify the Convention. When examining the four worst forms listed above through the lens of Japanese domestic law, while (1) all forms of slavery, (2) use in prostitution or pornography, and (3) use in illicit activities are completely banned, (4) use in work harming the health, safety, or morals of children was not completely banned in Japan. Although the Labor Standards Act bans the use of persons less than 18 years old (children) in harmful work, the Act also states “…shall not apply to businesses which employ only relatives who live together, nor to domestic workers.” This meant that Japanese legislation seemingly did not ban the use of children in harmful work at businesses which satisfy the criteria stated in this exception.
Now, my job responsibility required that I make preparations for ratification. I postulated that the use of children in harmful work at businesses satisfying the exception stated in the Labor Standards Act was actually banned by the Child Welfare Act. To receive approval for my interpretation, I repeatedly contacted the department in charge at the Ministry of Welfare (precursor of the MHLW), which was in charge of the Child Welfare Act. Ultimately, the department accepted my interpretation of the act and the decision was made to prepare a system for implementing child welfare administration. As a result, Japan was able to ratify ILO Convention No. 182 relatively quickly.
This valuable experience taught me about establishing and confirming legal rules through interpretation and application of the law.
Amendment of the Act on Employment Promotion etc. of Persons with Disabilities
In January 2001, I was positioned in charge of employment for persons with disabilities. I began working to amend the Act on Employment Promotion etc. of Persons with Disabilities. The foremost theme of amending the act dealt with the exclusion rate system within the system concerning the employment rate of persons with disabilities. Specifically, it was necessary to decide whether to take action for abolishment of the exclusion rate system or to postpone amendment as being premature.
The system concerning the employment rate of persons with disabilities obligates corporations to employ a certain ratio of person with disabilities in proportion to all employees. The system is based on the idea of normalization. However, the system has an exception in the form of the exclusion rate system. Specifically, in the case of industries with occupations for which the employment of persons with disabilities is considered as difficult, an exclusion rate is established as set by each industry and the obligation to employ persons with disabilities is waived. Moreover, the system concerning the employment rate of persons with disabilities also applies to the national and local governments; however, these governmental organizations also have similar exceptions based upon the exclusion rate system.
At that time, stakeholders’ organizations and academic experts strongly warned that maintaining the exclusion rate system into the future would not be acceptable. Conversely, objection and resistance would have been obviously inevitable from certain industry groups, individual corporations, related ministries of the national government, and other organizations for which abolishment of the exclusion rate system would lead to strengthened employment obligations and an increase in the employment quota for persons with disabilities. Amidst these circumstances, the reform bill called for complete abolishment of the exclusion rate system within the main rules of the system concerning the employment rate of persons with disabilities; however, it also provided for supplementary rules which would maintain the exclusion rate system for the time being while clearly stating that said system would be gradually decreased through Cabinet orders and ministerial ordinances. In summary, the reform bill called for complete abolishment of the exclusion rate system, while also implementing measures to alleviate the sudden change brought by strengthened employment obligations—overall, it sought gradual implementation.
This reform bill was enacted at an ordinary session of the Diet the following year. From the standpoint of normalization, it cannot be denied that the details of the reform were insufficient. Even so, it was a significant progress to completely abolish an exclusion rate system that had existed for about over a score of years since the establishment of the system concerning the employment rate of persons with disabilities.
3. My career as an attorney and my future
Fundamentally, my work as an attorney consists of aiding individual clients. The only time that I can become involved in a case comes at the request of a client. This is the biggest difference from my work as a public official which takes part in the state power—even if I was only one of many officials in charge. When handling a case, I sometimes feel as if my skills and knowledge are powerful enough for the task at hand; still, I am overjoyed when receiving words of gratitude from my clients.
There have also been a few cases in which my work went beyond aiding individual clients; specifically, my work led to the reform of administrative practice and judicial practice. In this respect, I feel that the work of a public official and that of attorney are somewhat similar. Although the two professions are in somewhat different positions and employ different methods, they both participate in the creation of social systems.
When considering my future career, I feel the urgent need to continue to refine my sensibility towards the necessity of helping people in need. I hope to be a person who can contribute to the society with some positive effect, from any professional position I would take, and in any method I could follow.
Despite being almost 50 years old, I have written an article that portrays me as someone who is still in the process of self-discovery. I hope that my meanderings will be accepted as one instance embodying the breadth of experience available at Chuo University and obtained through the field of legal system reform.
- Hitoshi Iwata
- Hitoshi Iwata was born and raised in Kyoto’s Nishijin in 1968.
In 1992, he graduated from the College of Economics, Ritsumeikan University and joined the Ministry of Labour (currently the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare). Duties included analyzing labor economics, formulating long-term economic plans, obtaining ratification for ILO Convention No. 182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention), making amendments to the Act on Employment Promotion etc. of Persons with Disabilities and more.
In 2005, he left the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and enrolled at the Chuo Law School.
In 2009, he was registered as an attorney and started work at TOKYO TAIJU Law Offices.
After registering as an attorney, he has handled various cases with a focus on labor and family law.
Also, he currently serves as an instructor of legal practice in the Chuo Law School, Director of the Legal Compliance Office in the Center for Personnel Interchanges between the Government and Private Entities (a Cabinet Office organization), Public Interest Representative at the Tokyo District Minimum Wages Council, and Legal Advisor at the National Archives of Japan.
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