TOKYO – Japan’s auto industry will consider an emergency fund to help with lost jobs and financial recovery from the slowdown in production and sales triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Akio Toyoda, in his role as chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, floated the idea Friday while outlining steps automakers here could take to fight the illness.
He said the fund could help support people who have lost their jobs during the economic downturn by helping them find employment with another company that needs their skills.
Toyoda did not say how much money the fund should have or offer a timeline for starting one.
The JAMA boss, who is also president of Toyota Motor Corp., the country’s biggest automaker, said manufacturers should leverage their combined business clout to keep the economy humming during the slowdown and then power the country back to growth when the pandemic ends.
Virtually every automaker in Japan is implementing some kind of temporary suspension of assembly lines at domestic plants as they cope with supply chain issues and plunging demand.
The automotive industry employs 5.5 million people in Japan, Toyoda noted.
“We will do our best to keep our businesses in operation,” he said during a video news conference in Tokyo. “To do that, first we need to protect workers related to the automobile industry from becoming infected. So, it is really critical that we take thorough measures to prevent this. Furthermore, this is also important to help prevent the health care systems from collapsing.”
Toyoda’s comments were directed mainly at job preservation in Japan. He said each member company has its own policy, especially when it comes to handling production shutdowns at overseas plants. Nissan and Honda, for example, have put thousands of U.S. workers on unpaid furloughs after suspending lines in North America. Workers in Japan, by contrast, tend to get at least a portion of their pay guaranteed, even during suspensions here.
“Each member company has their own approach to employment, but now is the time to regard employees as treasure, not a cost,” said Toyoda, whose own company will reportedly stop paying some 5,000 temporary workers at idled North American plants.
“If we lose elemental technologies and our human resources, our foundation as manufacturers could collapse. With that understanding, we would like to protect the jobs,” he said.
Among its pandemic countermeasures, JAMA will encourage member companies to manufacturer face masks, initially for use within their own companies. Toyoda said that prototype face masks were too stiff and not of sufficient quality or quantity for wider distribution.
Automakers and suppliers will also consider offering company dormitories and recreational facilities for use as housing for mildly infected patients. JAMA members could prepare around 3,000 rooms nationwide, including 1,500 from the Toyota Group, Toyoda said.