On government survey on the state of trade unions in Japan
Statement by NOMURA Yukihiro
National Confederation of Trade Unions
December 19, 2018
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on December 19 published a report on a survey on the state of the nation’s trade unions. It says that the number of workers who are union members was 10,070,000, up 88,000 (or 0.9 percent) from the previous year. The number of unionized workers fell below 10 million in 2011 and continued declining until it turned upward in 2015. This year’s increase by 0.9 percentage points marks an increase for the fourth straight year. The increase is mainly due to the growing numbers of women workers (up 90,000) and of part-time workers (up 89,000). There are 1,296,000 part-time workers who are union members in Japan, accounting for 13 percent of all union members. The rate of organized workers is estimated at 12.6 percent for women and 8.1 percent for part-timers. These figures suggest that organizing efforts among women or part-timers are so slow compared to an estimated 17 percent for all workers.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s “Labor Force Survey” (Preliminary figures for October 2018) says there are 67,250,000 employees. That’s up 1,440,000 from a year earlier and an increase for 70th straight month. There are 35,220,000 full-time regular employees (up 370,000 from a year earlier) and 21,560,000 contingent workers (up 1,150,000 from a year earlier) .
In April 2018, the revised Labor Contract Law came into effect, making workers on a fixed-term contract eligible to apply for permanent full-time jobs if they have worked five years. In October 2018, another system was introduced to enable temporary agency workers to request to be employed directly if they are found to be made to work illegally. But there are many cases of dismissals before the expiration of the term of contract, and such temporary workers are seeking help from unions to solve the problem. It is essential to encourage workers to organize themselves in all industries and regions and further intensify the effort to organize contingent workers for the sake of securing employment.
With 920,000 jobs added, an estimated rate of union workers fell 0.1 point from the previous year to 17 percent. By industry sector, the number of union members was the largest in manufacturing at 2,627,000, followed by wholesale and retail with 1,468,000, and transport and postal services with 842,000. There were major increases in union membership in wholesale and retail (+55,000), hotel and restaurant (+30,000), and manufacturing (+19,000). There were major decreases in transport and postal services (-17,000), education and study support (-11,000), IT (-8,000), and public service (-8,000). Generally, the service industries such as whole sale, retail, hotel, and restaurant have seen an increase in union membership. Declines in membership continue in transport, postal services, education and study support as well as the public service. Foreign workers are increasing in the service sector. With the immigration law revised to allow more foreign workers into Japan, an effort to organize them is called for.
As regards the membership of each federation, the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) has a membership of 764,000, down about 7,000 from the previous year. The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo)’s membership stands at 6,990,000, up 63,000 from the previous year. The National Council of Trade Unions (Zenrokyo) has 108,000 members, down 2,000 from the previous year. But Zenroren actually has a membership of 1,030,000 as of the end of June 2018, including the Pensioners’ Union and some others which are excluded from the ministry’s data. The ministry’s survey shows that membership declines were fewer than 10,000 for two successive years. It would be correct to say that the declining trend has almost stopped thanks to the great effort made by regional federations, industrial federations, and unions.
The four-year organization build-up plan is being materialized. Unions are promoting an all-out effort to build up unions with full participation by union members and are calling on workers in the workplace to join the union. Our efforts from autumn have invigorated the movement among contingent workers, helping to increase union memberships. The build-up effort is expanding by taking advantage of the effort to get workers to join the mutual aid association. We will continue to increase the struggle from the workplace level and devote more energy to organizing contingent workers, young and women workers as well. We are renewing our determination to achieve a “1.5 million-strong Zenroren”.