(Part two of a short series on Hello Work)
Ah, unemployment insurance. The one thing you never want to have to use but are grateful for when you need it.
Laid off in May, I set about accessing this precious commodity by going to Hello Work, the organization that runs the unemployment insurance scheme in Japan. One of the stipulations for receiving your unemployment benefits is that you must have a monthly in-person consultation every 28 days at their offices. Having first registered at Hello Work on May 15th, it was time for my second appointment 28 days later, on June 12th.
My appointment was at the Kanazawa Hello Work office since I was temporarily living there, which meant preparing for a long wait and confusion about my Tokyo address. Like the first time, I brought a Japanese friend along to help with translation. Although the second appointment was supposed to be pretty straightforward, I did not trust my basic Japanese when it comes to bureaucratic procedures!
This time, the consultation was on the second floor. I’d been surprised that the Hello Work office wasn’t so bad at the first appointment, but apparently only the first floor tries to be cheery. On the second floor, all pretenses have been thrown aside. There are no colorful posters depicting happy cartoons of people looking for jobs — only serious, dreary, black-and-white charts listing rules and timelines for payments and loopholes and restrictions.
Somehow, in this sea of signage, we managed to miss the three different signs telling us how to check in for the appointment, and waited for a good 20 minutes before someone took pity on us.
For the first appointment, you are required to bring lots of documents and identification. But, for the second, all that is required is your Unemployment Certificate Form, which you received at the previous appointment. There’s a lot of information on this form, but the main thing it asks is if you’ve been working at all in the last 28 days, and what job hunting activities you’ve engaged in. If you’ve done any part-time or contract work, it may affect how much money you will receive, but will not affect the amount of time you can receive benefits.
Between the first two appointments, no job hunting activities are required, although you will be required to complete two per month from this point forward. To check in for the second appointment, I simply had to fill in the required parts of the Unemployment Certificate Form and stick it in the plastic box next to the three signs that I didn’t see, and sit down and wait my turn.
Hello Work had certainly tried their best to cope with the coronavirus times: there was space between the back-to-back seats, sheets of plastic shielding the employees behind their desks, all of whom were wearing masks. Still, the office was pretty crowded that day, with what one could only assume were other casualties of the current crisis.
After waiting a while, I was finally called up to one of the windows to consult with a Hello Work staffer. “Great,” I thought, “Let’s do this!” He verified the information on my form, had me fill in a few more sections, and then showed me my Hello Work record and verified the information on that. After only a few minutes, I was dismissed and instructed to wait some more.
Although Kanazawa isn’t entirely rural, it is still small enough that the presence of a foreigner in a place like Hello Work can cause a bit of a stir. My friend and I were talking in English, which was surprising enough to attract the attention of a young Japanese woman sitting behind me. Apparently this girl had been studying English by herself but had no one to talk to, so she seized the opportunity to chat and practice. We were able to pass the time quite nicely until she was called. Not too long after, it was my turn again, and I was called to a different desk than before.
This Hello Work staffer was all business. She verified the information on my Hello Work record, which was still just as correct as it had been 20 minutes ago. She then told me what I’d been waiting for all month: how much money I would be receiving.
When you go on unemployment in Japan, the calculation of your monthly benefits is a bit tricky. I had been told it would be between 50% and 80% of my previous salary, but that is quite a wide margin, so I honestly didn’t know what to expect.
My benefits will only be 50% of my former salary, probably because I was making a decent wage and because I can stay on benefits for longer. Of course, I was hoping for more, but times being what they are, I feel fortunate to be able to receive this at all!
For those anticipating a visit to Hello Work, you can expect it to take around four weeks until you can start getting your benefits. I first filed for unemployment benefits on May 15th, and first received benefits on June 16th.
After reviewing my Hello Work record, I was given a fresh Unemployment Certificate Form that I will need to take to my July appointment, along with some informational leaflets, and that was it.
Overall, I think the time I actually spent consulting with Hello Work employees was only about 10 minutes. I’m glad it was a straightforward procedure, but I had expected a longer consultation where I would be given some assistance in looking for jobs. Perhaps that will be at the third appointment, another 28 days later.
For that appointment, I will need to have applied to at least two jobs, so now it’s time to get serious in my job search. Wish me luck!
Author: Mo Stone