Q&A (Labor Unions)

Labor Unions

Q: What are the key features of labor unions in Japan?

A: Many unions in Japan are enterprise unions, and represent only employees of a particular firm.

Enterprise unions bargain collectively with a single employer, and conclude collective agreements at the enterprise level.

Recently, however, consolidated unions that everyone can join beyond a single company at low cost are increasing. Speaking generally, general unions are more aggressive than enterprise unions, and are often neutral about deterioration in a company’s earnings.


Q: What is the unionization rate like in Japan?

The unionization rate in Japan as of 2013 is 17.7%.

As of 2013, the rate of large enterprises which have more than 1,000 employees is 45%, that of small and medium-sized companies which have more than 100 and under 1,000 employees is 13%, and that of small companies which have under 100 employees is 1%.


Q: What are the laws concerning labor unions?

A: Collective labor relations are regulated by the Constitution, the Labor Union Act (LUA) and the Labor Relations Adjustment Act (LRAA).

Article 28 of the Constitution guarantees the right of workers to collectively bargain. This constitutional right is reinforced by the system to check “Unfair Labor Practices” in the LUA. For example, an employer’s refusal to collectively bargain with a union representing their worker without proper reasons is an unfair labor practice (LUA Art.7 No.2). The Labor Relations Commission will issue a remedial order and order the employer to bargain with the union in good faith. The employer’s disobedience of the order will be sanctioned by either administrative or criminal fines (LUA Art. 28, 32).

The Japanese labor union system chooses plural unionism. Each union that meets the statutory requirements has all rights to collectively bargain and go on strike.

Unlike the Taft-Hartley Act in the United States, the LUA does not impose a duty to bargain on labor unions.


Q: Does an employer need to respond about all subjects that unions raise?

A: No.

The scope of matters about which an employer is required to collectively bargain under the LUA (mandatory bargaining subjects) is limited. Mandatory bargaining subjects are what are within the employer’s control concerning working conditions and other treatment of union members and management of collective labor relations.


Q: What are the requirements for the conclusion of effective agreements with unions?

A: To put the agreement in writing either with the signatures of the parties concerned or with their names affixed with seals. These requirements help to clarify the contents of agreements and avoid disputes that might arise from ambiguity.

Conversely, however, documents that fulfill the above requirements are likely to be seen as the conclusion of effective agreements and to bind the parties. Therefore, employers have to be careful about written agreements.


Q: Please describe the practices which are prohibited by the Labor Union Act.

A: The Labor Union Act prohibits three types of anti-union practices by employers: disadvantageous treatment of union members, refusal to bargain, and domination and interference in union administration.


1. To treat with union members disadvantageously

2. To refuse to collectively bargain with the representatives of the workers employed by the employer without justifiable reasons;

3. To control or interfere with the formation or management of a labor union by workers 4. To give financial assistance in paying the labor union’s operational expenses.

However, this shall not preclude the employer from permitting workers to confer or negotiate with the employer during working hours without loss of time or wages, and this shall not apply to the employer’s contributions for public welfare funds or welfare and other funds which are actually used for payments to prevent or relieve economic adversity or misfortune, nor to the giving of an office of minimum space.

5. To discharge or otherwise treat in a disadvantageous manner a worker for such worker having filed a motion with the Labor Relations Commission that the employer has violated the provisions of this Article; for such worker having requested the Central Labor Relations Commission to review an order issued under the provisions of Article 27-12, paragraph 1; or for such worker having presented evidence or having spoken at an investigation or hearing conducted by the Labor Relations Commission in regard to such a motion, or in connection with a recommendation of a settlement to those concerned, or at an adjustment of labor disputes as provided for under the Labor Relations Adjustment Act (Act No. 25 of 1946).


Q: What happens if an employer engages in unfair labor practices?

A: The union would file a motion with the Labor Relations Commission that the employer has violated the provisions. The Local Labor Relations Commissions and the Central Labor Relations Commissions in Tokyo provide administrative remedies for unfair labor practices.

If the Labor Relations Commission concludes that a dismissal was an unfair labor practice, they order the employer to pay wages during the dispute period and to return the employee to his/her original position.

If there is objection to the order for relief by the Labor Committee of the prefecture, it may be appealed to the Central Labor Relations Commission, or an action may be filed for revocation of the administrative disposition.


Q: When a union asks an employer to collectively bargain, how does the employer carry matters out?

A: 1) Rent a meeting room outside the office for bargaining and pay for all of it

2) The negotiated time must be limited to 2 hours.

3) Do not collectively bargain during working hours.

4) The president does not have to attend collective bargaining.

5) Do not bring parties concerning sexual harassment or power harassment.

6) Do not reject the participation of the umbrella organization’s officer.


Q: Please describe the key points during collective bargaining.

A 1) Take the initiative in the collective bargaining from the beginning.

2) You can stop the collective bargaining if an extremely large number of people come to the bargaining.

3) You must write reply documents in order to avoid the trouble of arguments about what was and was not said.

4) A person who writes a record of the collective bargaining must participate in the collective bargaining in addition to the people who speak.

5) Leave a clear record

6) Do not talk too much.

7) Heckling is not allowed.

8) Unacceptable requests must be refused no matter how vehemently union members claim that “they are unfair labor practices” or “this is a bad faith negotiation.”

9) Do not act on the spur of the moment.

10) You can leave to make consideration if union members say “the President should come here” or “answer immediately.”

11) Do not close collective bargaining even if the negotiation is deadlocked. Otherwise, it could become an unfair labor practice.

12) Never affix your seal, even if asked to sign the minutes.

13) You can refuse for union members to come to the president’s home on dates other than the date of negotiation.

14) Be careful about pre-consultation provisions. Once you agree to the terms, you cannot change personnel freely without explanation to and consultation with the union.