Last Updated: Monday, 18 December 2017, 09:48 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Japan

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Japan, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 126,500,000
Capital: Tokyo

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: none reported
Attempted Murders: none reported
Threats: none reported
Injuries: none reported
Arrests: none reported
Imprisonments: none reported
Dismissals: none reported

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


The increased prevalence of atypical work makes union organising and collective bargaining difficult. Trade union rights are guaranteed by law, but are restricted in the case of national and local public sector workers.


In August, the President of the Democratic Party of Japan, Yoshihiko Noda took over from Naoto Kan as the Prime Minister of Japan, becoming the sixth Japanese prime minister in five years.

Trade union rights in law

The Japanese Constitution recognises the right to organise and the right to collective bargaining, but these rights are restricted especially in the case of public workers, state-owned industry workers and for workers in private companies that provide essential services. The police, prison staff, Japan Coast Guard personnel, and members of Japan's Self-Defense Force are not permitted the right of organisation. In 2010, the government announced it would consider permitting the right to organise for fire department personnel, but in 2011 it was decided that the considerations would be postponed partly due to the change of prime minister. In local governments, because of the trade union registration system, a separate public worker trade union must be established in each administrative district, i.e. city, town or village. In addition, as salaries for management and office personnel are determined by law or by municipal bylaws, there are no collective bargaining rights. In the private sector, workers mainly carry out collective bargaining at the company level.

Strikes are illegal for national and local public sector workers. Under the law, public workers who incite others to strike are subject to a fine, up to three years' imprisonment, dismissal, salary reduction, or disciplinary action. Private sector workers, except those in businesses considered to be essential by the government, have the right to strike.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Increased use of atypical workers cause difficulties for union organising:

The number of atypical workers, including part-time employees, indirectly employed workers, dispatched agency workers, and workers on fixed-term contracts is growing. A Labour Force Survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications found that 35.3% of Japanese employees were non-regular workers in the period between July and September 2011.

Inadequate legal protection of these workers has spurred the development. The law stipulates that fixed-term contracts can be concluded for up to three or five years – depending on the worker's skill level – but there are no other legal provisions regulating the use of these contracts. The increased use of atypical workers undermines regular employment and makes union organising difficult. In the manufacturing sector in particular, disguised contract labour also has negative implications for working conditions and the health and safety of workers. The practice of undertaking business through holding companies and investment funds, both of which are not recognised as employers under Japanese law, has also caused significant difficulties for trade unions seeking to bargain collectively in such companies.

Revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act as a Countermeasure against Abuse of the "Training Visa" System:

The right to organise is further undermined by the abusive use of the Industrial Training Programme (ITP) and the Technical Internship Programme (TIP), which provide three year visas to unskilled foreign workers to come to Japan and receive training. Work permits are required and while workers have the right to organise, that right is indirectly undermined mostly through agreements between the trainees and the employment agencies in the sending countries. Despite promises of training in technological skills, many of the workers end up in sweatshops where they are forced to work long hours under dangerous conditions and for as little as half the minimum wage. The government amended the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act in July 2009 (which entered into force in July 2010), revising the ITP and TIP and including new provisions. The full impact of the amendments is yet to be seen.

The number of businesses found to be infringing the regulations has greatly increased (1,627 in 2009, infringement rate 70.5% to 2,328 in 2010, infringement rate 74.0%). In contrast, the number of claims from overseas technical intern trainees for infringements of regulations relating to labour standards has greatly decreased. However, further verification is required to discover whether the above situation has been caused by the revision of the immigration act.


Victory for workers of former Japan National Railways after a 23-year long struggle:

The National Railway Workers Union (Kokuro) and the All Japan Construction, Transport and General Workers' Union (Zendoro, currently Kenkoro-Tetsudo Honbu) have led a bitter struggle against the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency (JRTT). The basis of their complaint has been that their members were not hired by the new Japan Railways companies at the time of the division and privatisation of Japan National Railways in 1987 simply because they were Kokuro members.

On 28 June 2010, the Supreme Court finally settled the dispute between the 1,047 former workers and the JRTT. The agency agreed to pay a total of 20 billion JPY (22 million JPY per worker) in settlement money to 904 plaintiffs. However, as the workers were not reinstated, it was not a full settlement.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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