Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations
A “labour union” is defined as organisations or federations of unions, formed voluntarily by and composed mainly of workers. The main purpose of such labour unions is to maintain and improve working conditions and raise the economic status of the workers.
Dominant majority unions in Japan are deemed enterprise unions. These are organised at each company or group level, and which only represent employees thereof. However, consolidated unions allow anyone to join, including those individuals who are beyond a single company. The unionisation rate in Japan has been considerably and continuously declining. This rate has been less than 20% in the last fifteen years.
Rights and Importance of Trade Unions
A labour union organisation and its activities are guaranteed as basic labour rights by the Constitution and the Labour Union Act, irrespective of size and unionisation rate. A labour union has the right to initiate a collective bargaining request to the employer as well as to go on strike. Mandatory bargaining is within the employer’s control. Such bargaining concerns working conditions, other treatment of union members and management of collective labour relations. An employer has a duty to accept such a request for bargaining and negotiate with the labour union in good faith.
Labour unions are private voluntary associations. Therefore, labour unions have the ability and discretion to organise and operate their respective unions as they see fit. Also, a labour union is a self-governing association.
Furthermore, works councils do not exist in Japan.
There is no statutory requirement concerning the representation of labour unions under Japanese law.
The main task of the union representatives is to communicate with the employer on behalf of the union, and to provide their opinion or decision in response to the employer’s proposal(s). If there is a labour union representing a majority of employees at the workplace, the representative of such a union should take a role as a signatory of the labour-management agreement for certain mandatory statutory provisions, such as (i) requesting that employees work overtime and on public holidays; (ii) adopting an irregular working hours system; (iii) deducting certain expenses from salaries paid to employees; and (iv) communicating the union’s opinion on the workplace rules, when such rules have been provided and/or amended by the employer.
In principle, employee representation in management is not a concept recognised under Japanese law.
Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies
If a labour union has not been established or is otherwise non-existent, the employer is required, in such cases, to execute a labour-management agreement with the employees’ designated liaison officer, who has been charged with representing a majority of the employees at the workplace, in connection with specific mandates as prescribed by law (see above). An employer is also required to consider the opinion of the employees’ representative, when providing or amending the work rules.