Auto industry workers in Japan are having to make weekend childcare arrangements so they can work Saturdays and Sundays under new arrangements that move the weekend to Thursday and Friday to save power.

The move is intended to curb electricity consumption on weekdays to meet reduced power generation capacities in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant crippled by the March quake and tsunami, Kyodo News said.

While power shortages are expected to be most acute in the Tokyo and Tohoku regions, other areas will also be hit such as the Chubu region centering on Aichi Prefecture, served by Chubu Electric Power, which suspended its only nuclear power plant – Hamaoka – in mid-May. The plant is not expected to resume operating until enhanced measures against tsunami are taken.

The Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers’ Unions said the automakers’ initiative will impact at least 570,000 of its union members.

In Aichi and Shizuoka prefectures, which host a large number of auto industry businesses, local governments have decided to provide expanded slots at kindergartens on Saturdays and Sundays.

In Toyota city, where Toyota Motor has seven factories, around 3,000 kindergarten age children are estimated to be in need of being taken care of on weekends. The city has decided to open 22 kindergartens on Sunday from five before. The city government has also decided to provide care at eight institutions for first to third grade primary school children on Saturdays and Sundays.

Governments both local and central were apparently not well prepared.

It took the central government until mid-June to work out financial support measures for local governments to cover half the costs for running weekend day care. Local governments are expected to see costs for personnel at kindergarten expand if they have to open facilities on weekends.

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare determined that kindergarten fees should not be assessed on Sundays as the day is deemed a substitute for a weekday used as a holiday. But by then, some local governments had already arranged to charge.

An official at the Aichi prefectural government said, ”Some local governments have already set tariffs and closed applications. The state was acting too slowly.”

In Toyota city, an official said, ”We have been providing care on holidays for a fee.” The city is planning to assess fees in view of fairness. The welfare ministry said, ”In such cases, we would have to ask local governments to pay on their own.”

Despite the supposedly industry-wide measure, Toyota and Honda are considering running some factories on Thursdays and Fridays.

Some parents are wondering if the power saving measure would really have an intended effect. ”We hope to know what impact it has had after September,” one parent said.