The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the central organization of labor unions, selected its new leadership team led by Chairperson Yoshino Tomoko at a regular convention on Oct. 6. It is the first time since the establishment of Rengo in 1989 that a woman has taken the helm. It is hoped that Rengo will immediately cope with changes in the labor market, including unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising number of freelancers, and address employment issues with fresh ideas.
The selection of the chairperson proceeded with difficulty. Rengo found itself in an unusual situation where it had to extend the deadline for filing candidacies after the nomination committee failed to narrow down candidates due to some prospective candidates’ flatly refusing to run even though they were recommended by the committee. Rengo urgently needs to regain its unifying force with the launch of the new leadership.
Rengo was launched in a merger between the now-defunct General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Sohyo), comprising public sector labor organizations, and the now-defunct Japanese Confederation of Labor (Domei), made up of private sector labor groups, on broad common interests. Rengo’s support is also split between the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP), resulting in frequent conflicts over policies. Rengo should be involved in politics by focusing on its primary role of improving the treatment and environment for workers.
A priority issue for Rengo is to continuously raise the wage level, which is showing little growth. To achieve that goal, improving Japan’s labor productivity, the lowest among the Group of Seven major advanced nations, will be fundamental. There is a need to review workstyles and enhance the skills of regular and non-regular workers. It is hoped that Rengo will actively lobby management to develop [workers’] skills.
It is also hoped that Rengo will squarely face the mobility of employment. Company unions, which are unique to Japan, tend to become inward-looking. Cooperation beyond the boundaries of companies is required to create an environment where workers can change jobs free of anxiety. To that end, Rengo needs to demonstrate leadership.
The smooth transfer of labor to digital and other growth areas is indispensable for supporting people who have lost their jobs. We suggest that Rengo create a model for career training by joining hands with a labor union in the information and technology (IT) industry.
Rengo has launched a website that introduces how to deal with problems faced by freelancers. But the website has a membership of only 210. It needs to expand support for vulnerable freelancers as well as improve treatment for non-regular workers.
The labor union participation rate is less than 20% [in Japan]. According to a survey conducted by Rengo in March, only about 9% of respondents said they “know Rengo and its activities.” Rengo must take steps on its own to raise its profile.