Working Conditions for Bureaucrats: Measures Urgently Needed to Prevent Young People from Shunning Civil Service

The number of applicants to join the national civil service continues to decrease, and the number of bureaucrats leaving the profession is increasing. It is obvious that their working conditions need to be improved. Interactions between politicians and bureaucrats must be reviewed and efforts are needed to make the civil service an attractive and rewarding place to work.

The National Personnel Authority (NPA) has recommended to the Cabinet and the Diet that pay raises for national civil servants be implemented for fiscal 2023, including increases in monthly salaries and starting salaries.

Regarding starting salaries, the NPA called for an increase of more than ¥10,000 for both university and high school graduates. If realized, it will be the first significant increase in 33 years. The monthly salaries for all national civil servants were recommended to increase by ¥3,869 on average. Pay increases would be distributed more generously among younger employees.

The recommendations, which focus on securing human resources and improving the working conditions for junior employees, are aimed at curbing the trend among young people of shunning jobs as national civil servants.

The number of applicants for national civil service recruitment examinations for career-track bureaucrats as candidates for key posts in the future has decreased by 30% over the past 10 years. There is an urgent need to improve the working conditions for young bureaucrats.

The recommendations also included proposals to pay allowances to employees who work mainly from home and the introduction of a four-day workweek within the framework of a set number of total working hours, enabling flexible working styles.

All of these measures are necessary, but there is another problem to be addressed. The departure of mid-career and younger bureaucrats is becoming increasingly serious.

Eighty-six career-track bureaucrats in their 20s resigned for personal reasons in fiscal 2019, a fourfold increase from six years ago. One reason appears to be that future promotions would not result in a significant improvement in remuneration.

For example, promotion to the position of section chief comes with a management allowance, but overtime and holiday work allowances are eliminated, which is said to result in only a slight increase in actual take-home pay.

Salaries for bureaucrats cannot be described as high compared to those at major private companies in the first place. Some believe that private companies are trying to headhunt talented bureaucrats at the point in their careers when responsibilities start mounting.

It is a loss to the nation when experienced mid-career bureaucrats tipped for executive-level roles leave the civil service. It is necessary to introduce a system that ensures salary increases in accordance with performance and ability.

Also worthy of consideration is a career track that allows mid-career and young employees to remain in their assigned sections for longer periods so that they can hone their expertise if they want to do so, as an alternative to the system of regular transfers.

Interactions between politicians and bureaucrats must also be changed.

Diet debate has become focused on pursuing mistakes and discrepancies in government responses, rather than tackling substantive policy arguments. Under such circumstances, opposition parties tend to submit questions to bureaucrats late. There is a huge burden on the bureaucrats who prepare the answers.

With long working hours becoming the norm, it will be impossible to increase the number of civil service candidates.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 24, 2023)