TOKYO Hundreds of jobless Japanese marched around parliament on Monday demanding work and housing as lawmakers began discussing measures to combat a worsening recession.
Many of the protesters were former contract workers who had spent the New Year's holiday in tents set up by volunteers in a nearby park, having been kicked out of company housing after being laid off.
"Stop firing temporary workers," they shouted, marching with banners and posters.
"The toughest part is that we don't have a job," said Tsuguo Kaneko, 45, a former contract worker for a baby food manufacturing company who had stayed in the park.
"We can stand on our own feet once we get a job," he said, adding he was given an early termination of his contract late last year.
Contract workers and temporary workers are bearing the brunt as companies slash output, with the government projecting about 85,000 of them losing jobs from October 2008 through March 2009.
Tents in the park came down on Monday but Labour Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said the ministry had secured new shelters where the 500 jobless who had stayed there could move.
"First ... we will put jobs and housing as our number one pillar and work hard on this from today," he said.
"Secondly, we will provide welfare to those who cannot find jobs and housing."
Still, worries are growing over the economic policies of Prime Minister Taro Aso, who is struggling to exert leadership with public support at less than 20 percent.
He has unveiled a record budget for the fiscal year starting in April and two other extra budgets for the current year, but ruling and opposition parties are set for a clash in parliament over how money should be spent.
At a bipartisan meeting, lawmakers tried to come up with measures to protect jobs and homes.
"It's a life-and-death matter. We have no time to waste," said Yumiko Himei, a lawmaker from the main opposition Democratic Party.
(Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota and Yuzo Saeki; Writing by Chisa Fujioka)