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Thousands To Be Transfered From Working on the Railroad

May 31, 1986

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan is trying a new managerial trick: cutting the staff of a major corporation by 61,000 people over the next few years without passing out a pink slip.

Japanese National Railways, with 307,000 employees, 12,500 miles of track and the equivalent of $108 billion in accumulated debt, splits into six regional railroads and goes private in just under a year. A key to making the national transport system profitable after it has run in the red for nearly two decades is trimming the bloated staff to 183,000.

JNR has it all figured out on paper. Taking normal attrition and a hiring freeze into account, officials calculate that positions must be found for 93,000 surplus workers in the next three years.

To make it easier, the new regional rail companies will shoulder part of the burden - 32,000 extra employees. Such incentives as hefty severance pay and help in finding new jobs is expected to encourage an additional 20,000 JNR workers to take early retirement.

That would leave 41,000 people to be divided between government organizations, JNR-related companies and the private sector by April 1990.

″But even if the number of surplus personnel matched the number of job openings, we wouldn’t automatically be able to match the people to the jobs,″ Hiroshi Sawada, a personnel bureau manager, said in an interview. ″We’re talking about individuals.″

As a first step in the placement process, the personnel bureau is computerizing lists of employees, including their individual future hopes.

Three quarters of JNR employees surveyed in December said their first choice was to work at one of the new passenger rail companies, while a fifth preferred to work for the government.

The government, accepting some responsibility for letting its public corporation grow out of hand, is expected to provide 30,000 jobs, Sawada said, despite recent administration policy to cut back on public personnel.

Shifting JNR to private ownership, along with sweeping reforms of the educational system and the swollen government bureacracy, is a major project of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.

His office even sponsored a 30-second television spot with former baseball star Shoichi Kaneda appealing from a Tokyo Station platform:

″To all of you scouts: JNR is overflowing with talented people. Please put this abundance of talent to use.″

Kaneda was chosen because he pitched for the Yakult Swallows, a team formerly owned by JNR, said Takeo Miama, a Nakasone aide.

JNR-related operations such as the Japan National Tourist Organization and platform kiosk operators will be virtually forced to absorb 21,000 people that JNR figures they can employ, Sawada said.

The hardest task may be matching personnel to private companies, which JNR hopes will be able to absorb 10,000 people.

″Most employees will happily go into government work, but we’ll probably need two to three times as many job offerings to place people in jobs they’re satisfied with in the private sector,″ Sawada said.

Shinji Kokubun, an official at the Federation of Economic Organizations, said members of that influential business group have responded with proposals to hire more than the target 10,000, ″but that of course depends on finding the people with skills to match their needs ... The number may end up being less.″

JNR officials liken their task to one facing Japan’s coal industry decades ago when the government decided to cut production at internationally uncompetitive mines. That plan, during Japan’s period of high economic growth, involved drawing new industries to hardest hit areas.

On Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island where mining was concentrated, the number of workers dropped from 250,000 at the end of World War II to 163,000 in 1958 and 9,000 in 1973, according to a study by Ezra Vogel, a professor at Harvard University.

The process was marked by the longest large-scale labor strike in Japanese history. Miners at Mitsui’s Miike mines in Omuta walked out for 1 1/2 years in December 1959, shortly after the government announced plans for a workforce cutback of 70,000 over five years.

JNR’s prospects seem better, with three of four major unions signing agreements to cooperate in the transition. The fourth and largest union, Kokuro, was split in early April by a faction demanding a softer union stance to guarantee that members could find new jobs.

Masaki Shibuya, a 25-year JNR veteran, said the breakup is a top coffee break subject among his colleagues, most of whom apparently want to stay with the new passenger rail companies.

Shibuya, who has worked three years at the Osaki station on the Yamanote line that loops through Tokyo, said he had not considered retiring - ″I still have a future here.″ - but would not protest transfer from railroad work.

″If I said I weren’t anxious about the changes, it would be a lie,″ he said.

End Adv Weekend Editions May 31-June 1

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