Population: 127,700,000
Capital: Tokyo
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 138 – 182

The increased prevalence of atypical work makes union organising and collective bargaining difficult. After 23 years of struggle, workers of the former Japan National Railways finally received substantial compensation. Trade union rights are guaranteed in the law but are limited in the public sector.


While the Constitution recognises the right to organise and to bargain collectively, these rights are restricted in particular for civil servants, for employees of state-run companies and for employees of private companies that provide essential services.

Members of the police force, of penal institutions, of the maritime safety agency and of the defence forces also cannot organise. In 2009 the government revised the law governing fire-fighters and established a system of liaison facilitation, although the right to organise is yet to be granted. In local government, trade union registration regulations for public employees require the creation of separate unions in each municipality. Moreover, administrative and clerical workers do not have the right to bargain collectively as their wages are set by law and regulations. In the private sector, workers bargain collectively mostly at the enterprise level.

Public sector workers are banned from striking, and the laws provide that public employees who incite strike action can be fined, sentenced to up to three years' imprisonment, dismissed, reprimanded with a pay cut or disciplined. Private sector workers have the right to strike except in services deemed essential by the government.


Background: In June, Naoto Kan, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, replaced Yukio Hatoyama as Prime Minister after the latter resigned after only nine months in power. Naoto Kan became the fifth prime minister in four years.

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 34.5% of Japanese employees were non-regular workers in the period between July and September 2010.

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.

Immigration law amended to combat abuse of "trainee 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.

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 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.

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