The Basic Survey on Trade Unions, conducted in June and compiled in December 1991 by the Ministry of Labour, revealed that the unionization rate for 1991 declined to 24.5 percent, down 0.7 percent points from the year before, continuing the decline for 9 consecutive years since 1982. Secretary-General Yamada of Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), the largest central labor organization, commented, "We take this seriously, finding that we have done little to deal with the question of how to expand of the organization." He thus added that Rengo would endeavor to "achieve a unionization rate of 30 percent" through strengthening of industrial organizations. The Ministry has carried out the Basic Survey each year since 1947.
Japan's unionization rate, after hitting 55.7 percent in 1947, dipped to the mid-30 percent range in the early 1950s. It has continued to decline from 1975 to the present after having levelled off for about 20 years. The foremost cause of the drop in the unionization rate is inability to adequately organize the rising number of employed workers, including part-timers and temporary workers, in the tertiary sector. The survey found that despite the increased number of employed workers of 1.87 million, the unionization rate, which is the ratio of union members to total employed workers, declined to 24.5 percent, far below the record low of 25.2 percent recorded in 1990.
The proportion of organized members by central group to the total number of union members was 61.4 percent (7.615 million) for Rengo, 6.6 percent (840,000) for Zenroren (National Confederation of Trade Unions) with many pro-Communist members and 2.4 percent (229,000) for Zenrokyo (National Trade Union Council) consisting chiefly of leftwingers of the Social Democratic Party of Japan. In addition, 22.2 percent (2.758 million) were not affiliated with central organizations and 9 percent (1.114 million) did not belong to any upper-echelon organizations.
The top three industrial organizations included Jichiro (All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers' Union, 975,000 members), Jidoshasoren (Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers' Unions, 764,000 members)and Denkiroren (Japanese Federation of Electrical Machine Workers' Unions, 740,000 members) followed by Zensendomei (Japanese Federation of Textile, Garment, Chemical, Distributive and Allied Industry Workers' Unions, 540,000 members). The later started with labor unions in the textile industry and expanded its sphere of unionization efforts into commerce and distributing. Next is Zenkensoren (National Federation of Construction Workers' Unions, 523,000 members), which continues its efforts toward expanding unionization from areas of carpentry and plastering to other construction-related fields.
By firm size, the unionization rate was high at 58.7 percent in firms with 1,000 and more regular workers. This compares with 23.3 percent in those firms with 100-1,000 regular workers. It was, however, only 1.8 percent in firms with fewer than 100 regular workers which comprise a shade over 54 percent of total workers, indicating that workers in small firms remain virtually unorganized. By industry, the unionization rate stood at over 40 percent in government service, electricity, gas, steam supply and water, finance and insurance and 29.9 percent in manufacturing. The unionization rate was low at 14.1 percent in the services and at 8.8 percent in wholesale and retail trades and restaurants.
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