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Friday, Aug. 29, 2008

Ministry setting example with own day-care center


Staff writer

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry plans to open a day-care center on its premises in the Kasumigaseki district in the next fiscal year.

The facility for the ministry's employees, as well as other parents, will be the second of its kind in Kasumigaseki.

The education ministry built the first day-care center, and it's full up.

The new facility will accept around 30 children up to age 5, according to the land ministry. The funding, estimated in the neighborhood of ¥50 million, will be included in the 2009 budget request to be submitted Friday.

One reason behind the move is that the ministry lags behind its peers in the number of senior female officials.

Of its 1,980 officials ranked as a "junkacho" deputy section chief or higher in January 2006, only 11 were women. That 0.6 percent rate is well below the government average of 1.7 percent. The health ministry leads the way with 5.2 percent.

To expand the female workforce, the government in April set a goal of achieving a rate of roughly 5 percent in all ministries by the end of fiscal 2010.

"The transport ministry should take the lead in meeting that goal, so I instructed officials to consider having a child-care center inside the ministry," former land minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba said last month, adding that the aim is to have more women stay in the workforce.

The facility will be operated by a private entity to be selected by the ministry. The hours haven't been set, but they will be sometime between 7:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. on weekdays. The ministry hopes the basic monthly charge will be no more than ¥80,000 for a child below age 3, but this is based on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government coming through with partial subsidization, which at this point is not a given.

But while other parts of the nation suffer from a chronic lack of child-rearing facilities, some experts frown on the ministry's plan, which uses public money.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, more than 17,000 children across the country were on waiting lists for day-care centers in April 2007.

"The general public may not understand ¥50 million being used mainly for ministry officials," said Shigeki Matsuda, senior research director at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

"So many children (are waiting to get into day care) and workers in the private sector are seriously worried whether they can find a nursery," Matsuda pointed out.

Parents want to see the government fix the shortage for everyone, he said.

Matsuda also said that central government employees aren't exactly hurting when it comes to family finances.

"Bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki have relatively good incomes, compared with other people. . . . If they have a certain level of income, they can pay for child-care services in the market" without further public support, Matsuda said.



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