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(25-12-2017)Zenroren comments on MHLW survey on union membership in Japan

Statement by HASHIGUCHI Norishio
Acting Secretary General of the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
December 25, 2017

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) published the findings of the annual survey on union membership and the union density rate for 2017.

Union membership in Japan stood at 9,981,000, up 41,000 (0.4 percent) from the previous year. But the number of unionized workers fell below 10 million in 2011 and it continued to decline for several years. This year saw the third consecutive increase after an increase of 0.1 percentage points in 2015 and 0.6 percentage points in 2016. The increase is mainly due to a growing number of women workers and of part-time workers joining the union. (The number of women union workers increased by 76,000, and an additional 77,000 part-timers joined the union.) The total number of part-time workers who are union members reached 1,208,000. They account for 12.2 percent of all unionized workers. That’s up 0.8 percentage points from the previous year. But unionization of women workers and part-time workers remains slow -12.5 percent for women and 7.9 percent for part-time workers, as compared to the overall estimated rate, 17.1 percent.

The percentage of workers who are union members was 17.1 percent. That’s down 0.2 percentage points due to an increase of 1,000,000 employees. The Internal Affairs and Telecommunications Ministry in its “Labor Force Survey” released in October 2017 said that the number of employees was 65,810,000. That was up 610,000 from a year earlier and marked an increase for the 58th consecutive month. The number of full-time employees was 44,850,000, an increase of 580,000 from a year earlier. The number of contingent workers was 20,410,000, up 50,000 from a year earlier.

Unions should be called upon to organize workers in all industries and regions. It is particularly important to organize contingent (i.e. part-timers and other casual) workers. Workers who are currently on a fixed-term contract for more than 5 years are eligible for requesting to become permanent employees from April 2018. Already such workers throughout the country are making calls to ask questions about their fate, including possible unilateral termination of employment contracts. Under a new system that will come into effect in October 2018, a temporary agency worker can work on the same terms as those offered by the agency if any illegal labor practice against the worker has been discovered. It is all the more necessary to increase the effort to organize contingent workers.

Industrial figures show that the number of workers who are union members is the highest in manufacturing at 2,608,000, followed by wholesale and retail at 1,413,000 and transport and postal at 859,000. The largest increase from the previous year was in hotel- and restaurant-related service industries at 29,000, followed by wholesale and retail at 27,000, and life-related services and entertainment at 20,000. Membership fell most in telecommunication, by 25,000 followed by manufacturing’s 14,000 and public services’ 12,000. Employment grew sharply in the services industry that includes hotels and restaurants, and the wholesale and retail sectors. By contrast, declines in employment continues in manufacturing and public services. This apparently represents the tendency in these sectors to replace more full-time workers with contingent workers. There are also many foreign workers employed in the services industries. This suggests that their organization is urgently needed.

The Zenroren membership stood at 771,000, down 5,000 from the previous year (the number includes memberships of Zenroren-affiliated regional federations. If union members of the Japan Pensioners’ Union and other organizations under the influence of Zenroren is added, the membership was 1.04 million as of the end of June 2017. The ministry’s survey shows that Zenroren’s membership declined by less than 10,000. It would be correct to say that a declining tendency is being halted thanks to the efforts by regional local and industrial federations. The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) has a membership of 6,920,000, up 49,000 from the previous year. The National Council of Trade Unions (Zenrokyo) has a membership of 110,000, down 5,000 from the previous year.

Zenroren-affiliated unions are making progress in the implementation of a 4-year organization buildup plan. Meetings were held in 37 prefectures to promote the campaign with all union members participating. This past autumn, our campaign is developing in preparation of the introduction of the new system enabling temporary agency workers to request the employer to hire him/her as permanent employee. We are also recruiting new union members by linking their joining the mutual benefit association with becoming a union member. At the same time, we are determined to build a 1.5 million-strong Zenroren by strengthening the struggle from the workplace and by organizing more contingent workers, young people and women.

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