Hundreds of laid-off temporary workers rallied on Monday in Tokyo, urging companies to give them social protection as the government said the economy faced its worst crisis since World War II.

About 300 workers demonstrated outside the Tokyo headquarters of major companies including truck maker Isuzu Motors.

The protest came as a UK car workers union expressed anger at BMW for laying off 850 temporary workers at its MINI plant, reportedly with an hour’s notice.

The Japanese government has estimated at least 125,000 temporary contract workers have been laid off or will be fired by March when the fiscal year ends, as the global economic downturn has impacted Japan’s export-dependant economy,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

“Although we do not deny this financial crisis, companies have a social responsibility. But they have abandoned it for the sake of their survival,” said Ryozo Fujisaki, chairman of the national trade union council.

Several foreign nationals joined the rally, AFP said. Many Peruvians and Brazilians of Japanese descent working in the country’s major industrial areas have been among the first to be fired in the current downturn.

Temporary worker Hideo Yamamoto, 34, who told AFP he was suddenly dismissed in December from Isuzu, said his meagre savings were now stretched thin.

“I don’t know if I can continue to survive in the coming months,” he told the news agency. “It’s unfair that companies treat regular [permanent] and non-regular [temporary] workers separately. I have lost trust in companies.”