¡Individual Affiliate Unions in Japan
The mainstream labor unions in Japan are enterprise unions and they consist of regular employees within enterprises, especially, large-scale ones. Consequently, many workers of minor enterprises and irregular employees have been excluded from labor unions. Individual affiliate unions have been served as receiving unions for such workers. Thus, individual affiliate unions have been viewed as gthe labor union an individual can joinh in Japan. What gthe labor union an individual can joinh means is expression distinguishing the union from enterprise unions which excludes but regular employees. Individual affiliate unions are similar to general unions in other countries and many of individual affiliate unions actually name themselves as ggeneral union.h They are different from general unions in other countries in that they were formed against enterprise unions which were peculiar to Japan and their activities were based on collective bargaining legislation.
Although it was true that an individual joined a union independently in the past, individual affiliate unions as labor movement started in 1980s. One of its bases is general unions which once-existed SōhyōiGeneral Council of Trade Unions of Japanjat the national center established nationwide in order to organize workers of minor enterprises. General unions were formed after enterprise unions of minor enterprises gathered on a regional basis and there existed three kinds of unions--coalition of enterprise unions, combination of individual affiliate unions and coalition and complete individual affiliate unions. In 1980s the number of irregular workers, especially part-time workers, increased dramatically. Moreover, it was decided that Sōhyō was dissolved. As a result, a movement started that individual affiliate unions were perceived as receiving unions for part-time workers. Since its organization target included a local community, it called itself the Community Union Movement (hereafter CUM). As a result of active involvement in labor consultation activities the number of community unions and union members has increased with the increase of the number of irregular workers. At present there are 73 community unions nationwide and the number of union members is 15,000 (OH 2010). Also, the CUM has influenced both Rengō (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation) and Zenrōren (National Confederation of Trade Unions) of the national center which mainly consisted of enterprise unions and they have formed subordinate individual affiliate unions. The number of each union member is about 15,000 nationwide (OH 2010).
What supports activities of individual affiliate unions is collective bargaining legislation which is peculiar to Japan. Under article 28 of the Constitution of Japan everyone can have the right to organize and even minority unionsf members can have collective bargaining with enterprises. Therefore, even if there is only one union member within an enterprise, the union he/she belongs to can propose collective bargaining and the enterprise cannot reject it without right reason. This enables unions to solve individual labor consultation through collective bargaining with enterprises. According to Oh, the number of independent labor conflict resolution through collective bargaining between general unions and business owners in 2008 is estimated to be 2387. Although this number is less than that of the Dispute Coordinating Committees in Prefectural Labor Bureaus (3234--formation of coordination 2647 + withdrawn 587), it is more than that of Committee of Labor Affairs (271--resolution 212 + withdrawn 59), labor tribunals (1028) in 2007 and normal cases related to labor (1114) in 2007. Through activities of individual affiliate unions (and cooperation with lawyers and journalists) most labor issues which has become social issues since 1980s, including part-time workers, overwork death, dispatched labor and managerial position only in name have become known widely to public.
Individual affiliate unions thus have played a great role. However, their main problem is that their unions do not mature because many union members withdraw from the unions once their labor issues are solved. For many workers the term they join the unions means the term they have labor issues and it may be natural that they withdraw from the unions with resolution of their labor issues. Yet some of them consult the unions when their labor issues occur again. Without the increase of union members, however, even famous unions in the urban areas usually have problems--inancial problem and insufficient human resources. Moreover, it is pointed out that because the unionsf activities mainly deal with enterprisesf violation of labor act and disclosure of enterprisesf unethical acts (i.e., reduction of disadvantages), they cannot improve labor conditions including increase of union members and higher wages. Activists of the unions are conscious of these issues and they make every efforts to increase cases of consultation and radicate union members by adopting more sophisticated media strategies, establishing mutual aid systems, creating systems (such as payment of transportation fees) and fostering a welcoming atmosphere so that union members can participate in union activities and holding social events.
OH Hak-soo 2010 gThe Current Condition and Significance of General Unions: In Relation to Resolution of Individual Labor Troubles,h (in Japanese) Nihon Rodo Kenkyu Zasshi No.604C47-65.
Written by HASHIGUCHI Shoji