Report of TUC - Rengo Bilateral meeting Jan 08g
1 A TUC delegation consisting of the General Secretary, Gail Cartmail from the General Council and Sam Gurney from the TUC European Union and International Relations Department visited Tokyo on 28-29 January to take part in the second bilateral exchange with the leadership of JTUC-Rengo, the largest Japanese national centre The visit followed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the TUC and Rengo in 2005 which committed us to bi-annual meetings in London and Tokyo on an alternating basis. The next meeting should take place in 2009 in London.
2 The purpose of the exchanges is to share information about trade union priorities in our respective countries, to discuss issues of mutual interest relating to the international situation and matters relating to global trade union structures.
3 The first day of the visit consisted of an initial meeting with the senior leadership of Rengo at which issues relating to peace and nuclear disarmament, China, international development and the forthcoming G8 Summit were discussed. This was followed by meetings with an expanded group of Rengo leaders and officials to discuss a wider range of issues. The second day began with a visit to the largest Nissan plant in Japan at Tochigi, followed by the local union offices. The delegation then returned to Tokyo for meetings with Vice Minister Kazumi Matsui at the ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, a press interview and a briefing at the British Ambassador's residence.
Day one: first meeting
4 The first meeting took place with a smaller group of senior Rengo leadership led by President Tsuyoshi Takagi, together with General Secretary - Nobuaki Koga, Director of Solidarity Activities -Yukio Isobe and members of the international department including Executive Director Chihiro Ikusawa, Masayuki Shiota and Masahiro Nogi.
5 Peace and disarmament - Rengo restated the importance of the issue to them and to the wider Japanese people given the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They then gave an overview of current prospects for reductions in nuclear weapons stocks (very limited) and outlined their planned actions in the build up to the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference in New York. They plan to launch a joint campaign in Japan together with other organisations aimed at securing public support for the abolition of all nuclear weapons by 2020. They will also seek to initiate a campaign to collect signatures globally in support this call and will organise a series of events at the NPT review conference itself. They asked for TUC support within the ITUC for these actions and asked if the TUC or member unions had had any involvement in the Mayors for Peace initiative (45 British cities are involved including London, Manchester and Glasgow).
6 The TUC responded by saying we shared the objective of working towards global peace and giving background on the current debate on Trident renewal. It was also noted that women in the British trade union movement had played a leading role on this issue. It was agreed that we broadly supported the objectives outlined by Rengo and would consider what action the TUC could take in support, such as alerting regions to the Mayors for Peace initiative, giving consideration to a more detailed proposal on the idea of a signature campaign and hosting the Rengo display on the impact of nuclear weapons on Japanese cities in Congress House.
7 China - Discussion focused on recent TUC and Rengo contacts with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) and the prospects for more contact between the ACFTU and the ITUC. Both Rengo and the TUC agreed that they supported an increased dialogue at this level. However it was noted that the ACFTU needed to engage directly with the ITUC and could not be seen as a free and independent union organisation. It was agreed that it was more likely that the ACFTU would adopt a more positive view on engagement with the ITUC if they regained a place on the workers group at the ILO. It was agreed that TUC and Rengo should continue to work closely on this issue and share information.
8 Development - The TUC delegation set out key issues in regard to increasing trade union support both for work aimed at building trade union organisation in developing countries and lobbying to get developed country governments to meet the commitments on development given at the 2005 G8 and other forums. On the G8 agenda it was stressed that education, health and overall funding should all feature. Rengo responded that they were in broad agreement with these aims noting that through JILAF they continued to offer support to sister unions in developing countries. They went on to say that the current financial constraints on the Japanese government made it unlikely that more money would be made available in the national development budget. The Japanese government was engaged in preparations for the 4th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) at which the issue of how much had actually been done to assist Africa since the 2005 G8 would be discussed. These issues would then be carried forward into the G8 summit.
9 G8 summit - Both Rengo and the TUC outlined contacts with our respective governments in regard to the agenda. Rengo stated they would be meeting the senior Sherpa in February and were in regular contact with John Evans and TUAC regarding arrangements for both policy submissions and practical and logistical plans for the trade union leaders meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister in May. For the TUC Brendan confirmed that he would be attending both the G8 labour ministers event and the meeting with the PM.
Day one: second meeting
10 Labour force reduction, ageing society and declining birth-rate - Yoko Murakami gave a presentation on the situation in Japan, where if demographics continue on present course by 2017 there will have been a reduction in the working population of 4.7 million workers. It was noted that there was a clear need for more active labour market strategies. Both Rengo and the Japanese government had been studying UK models in particular by modelling a system called 'Hello Work' on the one stop shop approach being implemented by the DWP.
11 In Japan it remains the case that 70% of women leave the labour market after the birth of their first child. Japanese employers still have a statutory target of employing 1.8% disabled workers (although in reality the average is closer to 1.5%), Rengo referred to work on education and anti-discrimination being undertaken to enable more people with disabilities to enter the workforce. However their government's central strategy appears to be encourage people to work longer, 70% of men aged 60-65 remained in employment and the new target was for men to work to 70. Rengo faced major issues of workers reaching retirement age and then being brought back on significantly worse terms and conditions although there was a limited government subsidy to boost wages for older workers.
12 The TUC side responded by noting that Britain faced many of the same demographic issues with an increase of approximately 6 million retired people likely in the next 20-30 years. The government aimed to raise overall participation rates in the labour market from 73% to 80% and their were similar plans to get people to worker longer. It was noted that there appeared to be a greater emphasis in Britain on increasing the number of women rejoining the labour market. In order to do this, though, issues such as work-life balance and childcare provision had to be addressed more fully, particularly for those returning after childbirth.
13 It was noted that Britain no longer had quotas for disabled workers and that the approach we favoured was having stronger anti-discrimination legislation and rules to ensure all employers had to enable disabled people access to workplaces and make any necessary alterations to allow them to work. Attitudes to migration as part of the solution to demographic issues differed, with the British history of relative openness not being mirrored in Japan. Rengo favoured limited increases in number of skilled migrants entering the country, but remained wary of more widespread migration. It was stated that our retirement ages were also being raised, but that the TUC placed emphasis on legislation to outlaw age discrimination as best way of retaining older workers.
14 Employment measures for youth - The TUC delegation outlined the thinking behind the New Deal emphasising that we agreed with the government that measures to reduce youth unemployment were vital for both sustainable economic growth and social cohesion. The four groups covered by the initial New Deal were listed along with information about how the system worked to increase and improve support to individuals, such as by providing them with a single advisor. We reported that overall our assessment had been favourable although it was felt more could be done to tailor and personalise the system.
15 Rengo asked questions regarding the level of job seekers allowance and who the advisors giving support to claimants were. They also referred to increasing concern in Japan that there was a substantial reduction in numbers studying science and engineering of around 10%. Rengo were more broadly concerned about the emergence of a generation who were less socially integrated due to a separation from the labour market. This had been a theme at their congress where a number of speakers referred to increasing youth crime and alienation.
16 Atypical/non regular workers and organising - Toshio Ootsuka, Executive Director of organisational affairs gave an overview of the union membership situation in Japan. Density had reduced to 18.1% with membership have fallen by 1,070,000 since 1994, full time density was higher but substantial changes in the nature of the Japanese labour market meant full time, permanent contract workers were an ever reducing percentage of the overall work force. For the first time membership density in the public sector had fallen to less than 50%. On a more positive note around 420,000 new members had joined last year.
17 Yoji Tasui, Executive Director dept. of non-regular employment briefed us on the situation in regard to employment status. In Japan over the last decades there has been a widespread reduction in secure full time jobs. Japanese unions are structured along enterprise lines and this makes it very hard to organise newer, often smaller workplaces. Rengo are fully aware that they must change focus from just representing 'full time - full contract' employees and consideration is now being given to how to include the new atypical workers in unions. Regional/local based Rengo structures were admitting individual members and there was reference to younger workers forming new unions: something which we saw reported in the press in relation to a new union for staff at MacDonald's.
18 From the TUC side it was noted that the changing labour market situation was very similar to that which we faced in Britain although the fact that most of our unions were not enterprise based should, at least in theory, make recruitment easier. The legal situation regarding union recognition in the UK was outlined along with problems this created for organising throughout a company's supply chain, especially where services/functions had been contracted out.
19 Discussion then followed on a number of related topics including the possibility that the enterprise base of Japanese unions could be changed to allow them to recruit across sectors. It was stated that this would be a very radical shift and that organising locally-based unions and altering terms of existing collective bargaining agreements to allow enterprise unions to recruit non permanent staff would be a simpler beginning. Rengo also enquired about the British government's opposition to the EU Temporary Agency Workers Directive and our creation of the Commission on Vulnerable Employment. Rengo stated that they were gearing up for a major campaign focusing on rights for a-typical workers which would be launched in the spring and it was noted that they would be raising this issue via the G8 Labour Ministers meeting in May.
20 Organising unions beyond national borders - TUC outlined our support for ITUC and ETUC work in this area, alongside liaison with Global Union Federations and some direct national centre to national centre work, such as the training material on union busters jointly produced with the AFL-CIO. From UNITE's experience examples were given on joint work in Europe on campaigns such as Peugeot and potential plans to merge with the USW in North America.
21 We detailed other areas where national centres could support global organising work such as: recognising the importance of creating the space to organise through Global Union Federations signing International Framework Agreements, our affiliated unions including respect for core labour standards in agreements with firms when jobs were off-shored, the use of instruments like the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprise and the need to increase support work to build union organisation in developing countries. Discussion focused on the impact of private equity on organising and the position of migrant workers, a specific example was given of Filipino workers coming to Japan and the work unions in both the Philippines and Japan were undertaking to protect them.
22 Climate change - Naoto Ohmi, Assistant General Secretary and Eiichi Kaku Director of Rengo's social policy division led on Rengo's environmental policies. The Japanese government were adopting a 'top runner approach' with companies expected to benchmark against the best in their sectors in order to reach a target 6% cut in emissions. Rengo was working on a series of initiatives to increase awareness of climate change and other environmental issues such as this year's 'Eco Life 21' campaign. We were shown a range of materials, including reusable bags, which Rengo were distributing to members. In preparation for the G8 Summit where climate change would be a central agenda item they were aiming to work with various groups and NGOs to raise public awareness.
23 The role played by Philip Pearson in chairing ITUC work in this area and during the recent Bali conference received particular praise in particular for stressing the importance of the close relationship between climate change and employment. The TUC emphasised that climate change was a crucial issue for governments, unions, business and NGOs. It was noted that work on climate change formed a major part of our current operational plan and we reported on the various bodies and initiatives that the TUC was involved in regarding this area, including TUSDAC, production of the 'Greening the Workplace Guide', our broader support for green reps in the workplace and support at ITUC to keep the issue high on the agenda. In lobbying terms the necessity of maintaining pressure on our government to keep the issue high on the agenda and also highlighting what we wanted to see both in terms of meaningful reduction targets of 25-40% and an emphasis on just transition and the creation of green jobs was stressed.
24 In the subsequent discussion Rengo noted that in regard to the post Kyoto framework a set percentage target for reductions would be very difficult for Japan as they had already lowered emissions considerably and so were starting from a low base hence the preference for a 'top runner approach.' The Japanese Prime Minister was proposing each country should have individual reduction targets. We pressed on Rengo's position in principle on targets. Rengo responded that the issue divided the government and that the Japanese PM had gone further than expected at Davos.
25 Rengo had yet to decide its view on this approach, but were also calling for more analysis of carbon trading and environmental tax options. They understood the need to work towards targets and the need for industrialised countries to show leadership, but stressed that developing countries must also be part of the process (possibly with different levels of reduction target). Within Rengo the views of affiliates varied according to which sector they were in. It was further noted that many in Japan on the business side feel this is a bad time for Japan to host the G8 as the government may 'try to look good' by agreeing to go further than is in their national interest. Energy security and attitudes to nuclear energy were also touched on briefly.
26 G8 preparations - The meeting concluded by returning to the preparations for the G8 with discussion on the timing of drafting of statements by TUAC and there was agreement on the importance of addressing issues around atypical and agency workers, climate change, development and follow up to good language on decent work and labour standards contained in last year's German text. The meeting finished with a very positive sense that a full range of issues had been discussed in detail and that there were many issues which we could take forward together.
27 Tochigi - The delegation travelled by bullet train to the Nissan Tochigi plant established in 1968 and now Nissan's largest manufacturing site. We were joined by a representative of the Confederation of Japanese Automobile Workers, which represents 12 federations of enterprise based unions with a total of 724,000 members. The plant itself employs 3823 directly employed workers, 1740 semi-direct and 838 indirectly employed workers. Production is on two lines with an output of around 23,000 cars a month. We were given a tour of one of the production lines, following a car through its assembly process and seeing first hand the Nissan component assembly technique with its mix of automation and skilled assembly workers.
28 The manager of the plant, accompanied by senior union representatives, gave a presentation on the plant and labour relations. All full time workers were members of the Nissan union and there was extremely low labour turnover with average length of service being 24.5 years. He stated that all issues were discussed with the union and consultation with workers was key to continued improvement at the plant. QI circles operated alongside an even more localised system made up of teams of three which was used to raise suggestions about changes in production systems. If suggestions made by individual workers were adopted there was a bonus system to reward them. Pay structures had been changed with union agreement to a system based on performance rather than seniority. It was further reported that each workshop had its own skills centre providing regular training.
29 The delegation visited the plant's union offices and received a briefing from the local Nissan union representatives. There were 9 officers to cover the Tochigi site (5 full time and 4 part time) a ratio of one officer to every 500 workers with elections every two years. It was still a closed shop system for directly employed workers, but under the terms of the recognition agreement temporary and agency staff were not allowed to join the union. Only 6% of the workforce were women and they were still largely restricted to non-production line jobs.
30 Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare - On return to Tokyo we meet with Mr Mark Kent from the British Embassy and went directly to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to meet Vice-Minister Kazumi. The Minister had been a labour attaché at the London Embassy and recalled visiting the TUC some 20 years before. Discussion focused on the forthcoming G8 Labour Ministers meeting and the position of agency and temporary workers in Britain and Japan. On the former issue the minister stated that the theme for the event would be how to create sustainable societies with an emphasis on how to allocate the benefits of growth and secure the right balance between work and life. The Department was interested in our views on how to ensure that the conclusions from the Labour Ministers meeting were reflected in the final communiqué from the main summit in July and in particular on how to link the issue of green jobs with climate change.
31 The TUC welcomed the agenda, noting in particular the importance of a focus on climate change, green jobs and encouraging unions and employers to work together on this issue. We also stressed that we would like to see more emphasis on follow up to the Gleneagles commitments on development as this was directly linked to the theme of creating sustainable societies. We noted that TUAC were already preparing policy statements on behalf of global unions and that we would be part of the process for formulating this policy.
32 Discussion then moved onto the position on 'non-regular' workers and the proposed EU directive on agency and temporary workers. We noted that lack of progress on this issue remained a major source of dispute between the TUC and the British government as it was clear to us that the system was being used to cement a two-tier labour market. We pointed out to the Minister that Rengo had raised the same issues with us during our meetings in regard to the situation in Japan. The Minister was interested in how we proposed to narrow the gap and it was explained that the European Directive didn't limit the use of agency workers or reduce companies' flexibility in their use, but simply said that when used they should be treated equally to other workers.
33 British Embassy - The Ambassador was in London during our stay, but we concluded the visit with an informal debrief at the Ambassador's residence with Mr David Fitton and Mr Mark Kent from the diplomatic staff. This followed a press interview by the General Secretary with a journalist from the Nikkan Kogyou Shimbun. The debrief gave the delegation a useful opportunity to discuss various aspects of Japanese economy and society and the links between Britain and Japan.
34 The visit played a useful role in strengthening relations between the TUC and Rengo. Despite the relatively brief nature of the bilateral we were able to cover a wide range of issues and subjects. Dinners on the two evenings of our visit also provided time for more informal contact with Rengo's senior leadership and international department colleagues, in particular President Takagi and General Secretary Koga and allowed time to discuss domestic politics in both countries.
35 It was clear to the delegation that many of the issues that face workers in both the Japan and Britain are very similar. However the different structure of trade union organisation in Japan, based as it is on single enterprises, presents an additional challenge as enterprise based unions are struggling to cope with the changing nature of the Japanese labour market.
36 Throughout the visit Ms Chihiro Ikusawa, Executive Director of Rengo's International Affairs Department, and Ms Mamiko Katsumata ensured that logistics ran smoothly and our delegation were well looked after. The British Embassy also provided a number of very useful briefing notes and helped to facilitate meetings with Minister Kazumi and the local press.
Discussions and exchanges will continue with Rengo throughout the year in particular during the G8 Labour Ministers meeting in May and in the run up the main G8 summit in July.
Issued: 21 April, 2008