Japanese labor unions under COVID-19

March 8, 2021 [No.85 - 2020]

Mr. Suzuki Fujikazu,
Coordinator, Research Center for Solidarity-based Society



Japanese labor unions under COVID-19

Part 2. Extension of the labor union movement in society and initiatives to achieve such extension


1.    Telephone Consulting on Labor Problems


In the year after its organization in 1989, JTUC-RENGO established a labor consultation hotline that workers could call to consult on any subject. Since then, it has strived to find the ways toward solutions to various labor-related issues affecting not only union members but the public at large. During 2020, the hotline received 18,455 consultations over the course of the entire year, up nearly 30% from the number of 14,344 it received in 2019. A look at the content of consultation shows that the top three topics were "power harassment and other harassment" (accounting for 13.8% of the total in 2020 and 13.7% in 2019), "dismissal, requests for resignation, and discontinuation of contracts" (accounting for 12.0% in 2020 and 9.2% in 2019), and "employment contracts, rules of employment" (8.0% in 2020 and 8.6% in 2019). While their order remains unchanged, it is clear from the increase of 2.8 percentage points in the share of consultations concerning "dismissal, requests for resignation, and discontinuation of contracts" that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted employment directly. A look at only the three-month period of April-June shows that the number of consultations during these months in 2020, when the economic impact of the first state of emergency was severe, was up 1.5 times from the same period of the previous year, to 6,246 cases, and the most common topic of consultation during this period was "dismissal, requests for resignation, and discontinuation of contracts" (12.2%), while the second most common was "compensation during business closure" (12.1%), which had been largely nonexistent in 2019. These results show clearly that COVID-19 had a dramatic impact on employment under the state of emergency.


2.    “Unifan” mutual support and aid activities and the "Q” Support System for All Workers by RENGO


Through activities such as listening to the views of people who are not members of labor unions and providing consultation on resolution of various work and life issues, as well as providing information on use of various public programs, JTUC-RENGO has aimed for a labor movement that is a visible presence in the lives of workers. Through the process of doing so, the fact has become clear that people such as those who tend to be excluded from the social safety net, including those working in what are called atypical forms of employment (such as part-time workers, fixed-term workers, and temporary workers) and those in effective relations of dependency on ambiguous working conditions who find themselves in-between employment and self-employment, are bearing the brunt of employment uncertainty. It is clear from information such as the content of telephone consultation and survey results that these people, who are socially vulnerable, have been impacted directly by the employment crisis caused by COVID-19.


“Unifan”, which carries out, via donations, provision of materials, crowdfunding, and other means, mutual support and aid activities for people seeking assistance, was established in October 2019 through the cooperation of labor unions, welfare program organizations (such as mutual aid associations, workers' credit unions, and consumer cooperatives), nonprofits, and NGOs. The “unifan” network also is being utilized in areas such as employment and livelihood support in response to COVID-19 and activities to help stop the spread of the virus. In October 2020, the "Q” Support System for All Workers by RENGO (Wor-Q), a website to support those working freelance and in other ambiguous forms of employment, was launched. Wor-Q accepts registrations for membership in the JTUC-RENGO network free of the need to pay any dues. Members can not only receive free labor consultation services with JTUC-RENGO but also have opportunities to participate in communities of people who work in the same ways they do and can use contact points in which attorneys and other experts support consultation services, as well as joining the Wor-Q mutual aid society.


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