Measures to prepare for ratification of Abolition of Forced Labour Convention enacted; revision would change imprisonment with hard labor to imprisonment without hard labor for public service employees who participated in strikes
The National Diet of Japan on June 9 enacted a bill to prepare legislative measures to pave the way for Japan’s ratification of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105) after being approved by a majority vote in the House of Councilors.
The bill, which contains provisions to amend the National Civil Service Law, the Local Public Service Law, and the Mail Law, would change penalty against public service employees for participating in strikes or political activities, from imprisonment with hard labor to imprisonment without hard labor.
The ILO Convention No. 105 is one of the eight core ILO Conventions. Japan has been criticized internationally for failure to ratify it. The bill would change the type of punishment for public service employees to remove barriers to Japan’s ratification. But punishment exists per se. The bill would provide no solution to the fundamental problems.
Akiyama Masaomi, the secretary of Zenroren’s liaison council of public service workers and unions, issued the following comment on the bill:
On enactment of bill to prepare legislative measures to ratify the ILO’s Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105)
Zenroren Liaison Council of Public Service Workers and Unions
June 9, 2021
The Diet on June 9 enacted a bill to prepare laws that are conducive to the ratification of the ILO convention against forced labor (No. 105) after being approved by a majority vote in the House of Councilors.
The bill had been introduced in the Diet by members of the Japanese Parliamentarian League on the ILO Activities with the aim of having the government ratify the ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105), one of the eight core ILO Conventions. The National Civil Service Law is one of the related laws. The bill deleted the law’s provision for imprisoning public service employees with hard labor up to three years for inciting strikes or participating in other political activities and replaced it with imprisonment without forced labor. Equally, an imprisonment provision for strikes and political activities would be subject to imprisonment without hard labor. The Local Public Service Law has the same provision.
However, the bill did not remove the provision to penalize strikes and political activities. Although public service workers’ political activities that take advantage of their status may have to be restricted. But barring them from using off-duty hours to participate in political activities, which are part of their personal freedom, should not be subject to punishment. Penalizing such activities amounts to restricting fundamental human rights. Such penalty should be abolished.
The bill was submitted not just because the convention is a basic treaty ratified by 176 out of 187 countries, but also because it has positive impacts on international economic activities. Economic partnership agreements call for efforts to ratify the core ILO conventions. The ILO’s core conventions are considered as part of international code of conduct and used selectively for ESG investing. This shows that they have important bearings on various economic activities. In this respect, the bill only made a minor change, viz. replacing imprisonment with hard labor with imprisonment without hard labor without discussing the basic labor rights for public service workers. It should be taken as an amendment made merely with the aim of removing obstacles to international business activities.
Meanwhile, the Penal Code is expected to be amended to institute new penalty by abolishing imprisonment with hard labor and imprisonment without hard labor. The new penalty is defined by the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice as one that “can make a prisoner to do necessary work or give necessary guidance.” The ILO Convention No. 105 prohibits forced labor for strikes or political activities. The new penalty, which can make a prisoner to do necessary work, could be forced labor.
Still, it’s good to see Japan moving toward ratifying the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention. We expect that it will happen after the extraordinary session of the Diet in autumn. We hope that it will be ratified at the earliest possible time as the consensus of the Diet. We also urge the government to take the necessary step toward ratifying the ILO Convention No. 111 (discrimination in employment and occupation), which is the only unratified ILO core Conventions.
Zenroren’s liaison council of public service workers and unions will continue to make efforts to help restore basic labor rights for public sector workers, improve their livelihoods as well as public services and education, It will do its utmost with friends across the country to advance the various demands by linking them with such national tasks of fighting against adverse constitutional revision and of strengthening measures to prevent disaster and infectious diseases.