Transforming Industrial Relations: The Japanese Experience

September 22, 2017 [No.42-2017]

Shozo Inouye, Ph.D.
Former Regional Advisor, ILO Asia & the Pacific HQs.



Industrial peace is valuable not only to employers, workers and their organizations, but also to national economies. This article summarizes salient points of employers’ initiatives in their efforts to transform antagonistic labor union-management relations to harmonious ones.


The number of labor disputes in Japan has been low for these several decades. It is worth noting, however, that there were Tsunami waves of labor disputes in the 1950’s when its economy was busy reconstructing and also in the 60’s when it took off into rapid economic growth. It took hard efforts and conscientious initiatives of employers to establish industrial peace at the enterprise level. The new machinery of Joint Consultation (JC) was instrumental in this regard.


JCs may deal with long-term management policies, while the traditional collective bargaining (CB) deals with matters regarding working conditions. Most JC committees include employees and trade union representatives, if employees are unionized. JC committee may make decisions, or just meet and confer to share management information. Unlike CB, JC is free from strikes.


The subjects that may affect working conditions will be forwarded from JC to CB for negotiations. Careful implementation of JC, not to substitute but to supplement CB, is also important to establish this additional channel of union-management communications. In fact, Surveys on Labor Management Communication regularly find JC effective. A quick fix of placing legal restrictions on workers’ rights would not have accomplished this long lasting industrial peace. Last but not the least, it is useful for employers to educate core employees to share corporate level strategies and advance their organizational engagement.


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