Institute of Social Science
University of Tokyo
Anxiety over employment security of employees in managerial and supervisory positions has recently been a growing social concern, and people have been engaged in a vigorous debate on whether these employees should be allowed to join labor unions (Y. Suwa, Japan Labor Bulletin Vol. 33, No. 7; H. Sato, Japan Labor Bulletin Vol. 33, No. 2; EPPC and Rengosoken, 1994). In this paper, I will approach the issue from the viewpoint of industrial relations.
One of the important clues to discussing the issue is to elucidate the uniquely Japanese circumstances in which negotiations and consultations between labor and management define the organizational extent of a labor union, an independent organization. Study of the three basic rules pertaining to industrial relations which regulate the scope of union membership-laws, labor union rules and collective agreements-will make it clearer.
First of all, let us take up the nation's law as a framework which constrains the behavior of both labor and management concerned. Article 2 of the Trade Union Law (TUL) defines the labor union. Clause 1 of this Article, which stipulates an exception of "representatives of employers' interests," refers to "workers in supervisory positions having direct authority with respect to hiring, firing, promotion or transfers." Clause 1 is designed to secure labor unions' autonomy (independence from the employer). In this respect, there seems to be consensus in view among legal scholars (University of Tokyo's Labor Law Study Group, 1980, Sugeno, 1985).
The problem is how the TUL is interpreted and how much it actually affects decision of the extent of union membership. There are only a few judicial precedents available, and they include old ones. Judging from those small number of cases, though, the court the scope does not seem to interpret of workers representing the company's interest in a strongly restrictive way regarding a decision of the extent of union membership. Generally, the scope of those in managerial positions who are actually non-unionists is considerably wider than that of those who represent the interests of the employer as judged by the court.
It is the Labour Relations Commission that is the actual organ determining the primary interpretation of Clause 1 of Article 2 through authorization of qualification of labor unions. It is inconceivable, however, that the Commission would adopt a wider interpretation of the Clause than does the court, and this strongly affects the decision of the actual extent of union membership.
Of course, legislation not only regulates social life through the direct application thereof by administrative organs and courts, but also has the indirect effects of affecting changes in formation of social norms. Looking back on the historical development of the TUL, it is quite possible that clearer and more detailed description of representatives of employers' interests as a result of revision in 1949 of the TUL (listing of officials in Clause 1) affected subsequent management-led reorganization of industrial relations).
Second, examination of labor union rules shows that collective agreements, rather than labor union rules, substantially stipulate the extent of union membership and the latter ratifies in practice what is provided for in the former. Even when the union rules independently stipulate formal exceptions regarding the extent of union membership, it does not transcend the extent of the collective agreement enough to affect decision of the substantial scope of union membership.
The above rough consideration makes it possible to confirm that the collective agreement provides the most important rule that determines the extent of union membership in Japan. This, however, holds a contradiction in the commom sense that defining the scope of membership of the labor union which is an autonomous and independent organization is entrusted to the labor union itself. Why is the extent of union membership regarded as a matter pertaining to labor-management negotiations? The following may be cited as reasons.
First comes the fact that employees of Japanese corporations are not clearly stratified. In the corporate organization to which the principle of single status is largely applicable, stratification of employees within the organization (blue-collar workers and white-collar workers, for example), which is often observable in other countries, is not clear. Under these circumstances, employees' sense of unity tends to be nurtured, making it difficult to differentiate between management and labor. It thus is possible and is actually observed that without the employer's intervention, employees would not have doubts about those in managerial posts joining labor unions.
Management seems to have judged, for the following two reasons, that this situation, if no adequate measures are taken, will work against them.
First, it is necessary to secure active core employees who clearly side with management in the face of confrontation between labor and management. Simply stated, there is a need to secure core managerial employees who do not come under control of the labor union and who act for management with a sense of loyalty at a bargaining table or in disputes.
Second, there is a need to secure control of personnel decisions regarding managerial employees. Take in-house personnel reshuffles with reassignments as an axis, for instance. Labor unions are involved in personnel management of unionists in a wide variety of ways. If higher managerial employees are union members, union would try to intervene in the personnel process. Personnel decisions regarding managerial employees is, however, a matter of vital importance which affects hierachical control and business success of the corporation. To avert labor unions' involvement in this, it is necessary to exculde these people from union membership.
Of course, labor unions do not think that in order to ensure their autonomy, it is better to keep senior managers as union members. Historically, however, the extent of union membership which labor consider proper, tends to be broader than that considered as such by management. This makes it necessary to solve the problem through negotiations and consultations between labor and management. The scope of union membership as provided for in the collective agreement grew out of a trial and error-based compromise made between labor and management in these situations and therefore seems to be convincing. In a recent survey conducted by Rengosoken (Rengo Research Institute for Avancement of Living Standards) (EPPC and Rengosoken, 1994), about 9 percent of labor unions questioned recognized some section chiefs on the line as members, and 13 percent treated employees equivalent in status to section chiefs who usually are positioned off the line as such. On the other hand, approximately 90 percent organized chief clerks both on and off the line (See Figure). However, overhauling the rules concerning the scope of union membership, which has been established based on long years of experience, is now being called for. This is due to changes in the socioeconomic environment and resultant changes is personnel management.
The following are especially significant points. First, corporate reorganization and changes in personnel management have blurred the line organization, such as the department manager, the section manager and the chief clerk, allowing for a more flexible organizational structure close to the project system. In some cases, job-skill qualifications, which were initially established as the remuneration system, have been utilized to replace names of positions within the firm.
Second, the number of "those in managerial positions" who work as de facto staffers is increasing regardless of whether they are clearly recognized as professionals or specialists under the personnel system. This was generally regarded as a problem in personnel management because those positions could have been created as the response to lack of positions for senior white-collar employees stemming from seniority-based promotion practices. (The term "managers without subordinates"is a plain description of the problem.) But this does not give a full and satisfactory explanation of the term "managers or kanrishoku." The Japanese concept of "managers" is broad-based and is not necessarily the same as the concept of "managers" generally construed in the English-speaking countries. In Japan, "managers" include those who do work similar to that done by professionals. The scope of discretionary work which is not subject to time management (to which overtime is not paid) is narrow under the Labour Standards Law, and this fact is perhaps responsible for treating many employees engaged in highly discretionary work as "managers", who are exempted from time management.
These changes have brought about the phenomenon of a growing weight of those in "managerial" status within a company and a relatively narrow scope of union membership. Also, it has become difficult to classify union members in terms of positions, and it has thus become necessary to determine the extent of union membership by job-skill qualification, or by a combination of job-skill qualification and position.
In addition, today there are calls for reviewing personnel management of white-collar workers and introduction on an experimental basis of the annual salary scheme and discretionary work. This trend, whatever shape it may take, will eventually cause the traditional division of managers vis-a-vis non-managers to be further blurred. Thus, it is predicted that this issue will become much more of a concern for management and unions alike in the years ahead.
1) The University of Tokyo, Institute of Social Science carried out a survey on the realities of postwar labor unions in 1947. The survey said that of labor unions which responded, 26.7 percent had union members who were section managers or above (excluding such special chiefs as the labor section chief). What is more, considerable numbers of respondents said "other" or "unknown," and many had unionists who were officials in a high position (Okochi, 1956, pp. 99-106). In many firms these managers in relatively high positions left the union around 1949.
Employment Promotion Projection Corporation and Rengosoken (Rengo Research Institute for Advancement of Living Standards), Rodo Kumiai ni okeru Kumiaiin no Han-i ni tsuite no Chosa Kenkyu Hokokusuo,(A Report of Study on Scope of Union Membership in Labor Unions 1994).
Okochi, Kazuo ed., Rodo Kumiai no Seisei to Soshiki.(Formation and Organization of Labor Unions), University of Tokyo Press, 1956.
Sugeno, Kazuo, Rodoho (Labor Law), Kobundo, 1985.
University of Tokyo Labor Law Study Group, Chushaku Rodokumiaiho (Labor Union Law Commentary), Vol.1 Yuhikaku, 1980.
Sato, Hiroki, "Employment Adjustment of Middle-aged and Older White-collar Workers," Japan Labor Bulletin, Vol. 33,No. 2, February 1994.
Suwa, Yasuo, "Will the Union for Middle Management Expand?." Japan Labor Bulletin Vol. 33,No. 7, July 1994.
previous page next page MENU Special Topic Title Index-Industrial Relations