After pay raise recommendation, govt should reform its workplace

Deterioration of the bureaucracy leads to losses for the nation. Reforms must be quickly launched to make the bureaucracy an attractive and rewarding organization to work in.

The National Personnel Authority has recommended to the Cabinet and the Diet that the monthly salaries of national public servants should be raised by 0.23% for the current fiscal year, and that their bonuses should be raised by 10% of one month’s salary. This is the first time a raise has been recommended since 2019 due to a recovery in salaries amid the novel coronavirus pandemic in the private sector, which the National Personnel Authority uses as a reference.

A distinctive feature of the latest recommendation is that the increase in monthly salaries is limited to those in their mid-30s and younger. Competition with the private sector for human resources is intensifying due to the low birthrate. The number of young people not attracted to work in the national civil service is increasing and the situation is becoming more serious. It is inevitably necessary to improve treatment for younger age groups.

The number of applicants for job examinations for career-track bureaucrats has been declining in recent years. Examinations for public servants are held later than the recruitment period for the private sector. To secure human resources, the authority has decided to move up the timing of the examinations from the next fiscal year to match the private sector.

National public servants have an important responsibility to serve the nation and its people. The government must take various measures to secure talented human resources, such as improving pay and benefits, expanding mid-career recruitment and reforming work styles.

The work of national public servants is often considered to comprise “red-tape routine tasks” and is seen as easygoing. There is also a tendency to call for reducing the number of civil servants. In reality, however, a limited number of officials work on tasks for long hours and many public servants are exhausted.

The turnover of young employees can seem unstoppable. When the authority and other organizations conducted a survey of those who had left their government jobs, respondents provided such views as “Is it worth sacrificing my physical and mental health for this work?” or “Only people working long hours are praised.”

The workload for early- and mid-career national public servants is heavy, as they must hear from Diet members immediately ahead of question periods during Diet sessions and work late into the night to prepare answers. The ruling and opposition parties need to make improvements, such as the early submission of questions.

It is essential to make effective use of the bureaucracy, which can be considered Japan’s largest think tank.

Due to COVID-19, workloads intensified in some workplaces, mainly in the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. It would be beneficial to consider personnel assignments that go beyond ministry and agency boundaries and flexibly assign personnel to departments where they are needed.

The per capita number of national public servants in Japan is smaller than that of major Western countries. Increasing national public servant manpower could also be worth considering.

There has been a series of fraud cases in the government’s COVID-19 benefit programs involving officials of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the National Tax Agency. This is a serious situation.

The government should build a system to ensure that bureaucrats perform their duties with a high sense of mission and a sense of ethics.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 13, 2022)