In June 2001, the Judicial Reform Council (JRC) submitted its recommendations to the Cabinet after two years of deliberations. The Council had been established in recognition of the increasingly significant role played by the judicial system in an increasingly complicated and diversified society. Its mission was to investigate one of the areas requiring reform in Japan and to indicate the general direction in which the judicial system should be headed in the future. The recommendations are of great significance for labor issues in that they provide guidance for the reform of labor-related issues in the domain of the judiciary.Reflecting rapid changes in the situation affecting firms and workers, the number of individual disputes between an employee and management has been increasing. In recent years various efforts have been made to deal with this issue. On the administrative side, there is a Dispute Resolution Support System. (See the October 2000 issue of the Japan Labor Bulletin concerning the System and considered arguments and recent trends affecting the resolution of labor-management disputes.) The Law to Facilitate the Resolution of Individual Labor-related Disputes will come into effect in October of this year, enabling local Labour Bureaus to handle individual disputes by providing advice, guidance and conciliation. However, legal procedure is also necessary (in defining the rights-and-duties relationship) for the final resolution of such disputes. In practice, the current judicial system does not provide for a simple and swift procedure, and it has become progressively more difficult for the system to cope with the increasing number of cases. (The June 1996 issue of the Japan Labor Bulletin reported on resolution procedures for individual labor-management disputes, and the June 2001 issue reported on the increase in the number of such labor disputes.)
One section of the report of the JRC deals with Strengthening of Comprehensive Response to Labor-Related Cases and recommends certain reforms. It made three points. First, to cut roughly in half the duration of trials in labor-related cases, measures to reinforce and speed up civil justice were suggested, and the increased use of legal experts was recommended. Second, a labor arbitration system was proposed as a special type of civil arbitration in which experienced experts with knowledge of employment and labor-management relations would participate. Third, the report urged that consideration should be given to (i) the legal treatment of remedial orders given by the labor commissions (getting rid of the virtual five stage process through which employers now go when they institute action to annul a remedial order given by a labor commission concerning an unfair labor practice), (ii) to the introduction of a court system in which experts with specialized knowledge and experience of employment and labor-management relations would participate, and (iii) to the establishment of legal proceedings peculiar to labor-related cases. (The English version of this report is available at http://www. kantei.go.jp/jp/sihouseido/eng-dex.html)Following receipt of this report, the government promised that within three years it would draft a series of bills related to the issues mentioned in the report. The recommendations of the report cover a wide range of issues and arguments involving the judicial system as a whole, touching not just on labor law but even mentioning the revision of laws which are at the heart of the entire judicial system and the training of the personnel concerned with its operation. The issues concerning how best to improve the judicial system for resolving labor-management disputes cannot be settled within three years, but will require the enactment and implementation of appropriate policies on a mid- to long-term basis, with frequent fine tuning as the new legislation is implemented.
Public and private nurseries authorized by Japan's local governments play a significant role in supporting working women with infants and children. Data for April 2000 shows that 1,788,000 infants are taken care of at licensed nurseries across the country. This is one-fourth of all infants and children under school age (see Statistics 1). However, caring for infants in younger age groups requires a relatively large number of staff members and there continues to be insufficient vacancies for such infants. Accordingly, it is still difficult for many women with children to continue working.Under its Angel Plan drawn up in 1994, the government called for the improvement of child-care services and for an additional 450,000 to 600,000 openings in nurseries for infants up to 2 years old. With its Five Year Emergency Measures for Child-Care, the original plan was to be achieved during the period from fiscal 1995 to fiscal 1999. Although the plan was more or less realized with 564,000 places being made available in fiscal 1999, the demand for such places also grew, leaving the number of infants on the waiting list unchanged (see Statistics 2). The result was that in April 2000, 33,000 infants were waiting for vacancies at nurseries; two-thirds of them were 2 years old or younger (see Statistics 1). The proportion of all infants on waiting lists is particularly high in large cities: 62 percent of infants unable to get into a nursery are concentrated in Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, Osaka and Hyogo Prefecture.
Under these circumstances, the Special Office for Research on the Support for Reconciling Work and Child-Care Responsibilities of the Council for Gender Equality established within the Cabinet Office proposed further action to remove the waiting lists. Its recommendation is in a final report submitted to the prime minister in June 2001. The report aims to solve the problem of current and future needs for child care by increasing the number of places available for infants by 150,000; 50,000 in fiscal 2002, and 100,000 by the end of fiscal 2004. The plan calls for the use of currently unused rooms in schools and other existing public and private facilities to set up new nurseries at a minimum cost. It also envisages the private sector managing the facilities as far as possible.However, the Study Group on Gender Equality of the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry estimates that an additional capacity for 840,000 infants and children will be required in order to increase the labor force participation ratio for women in their 20's and 30's. It also projects that an extra 150,000 places for children will likely bring further demand for such services to the surface. This study group also proposes as a practical means to speedily reduce waiting lists, a child-care voucher system whereby the vouchers could be used only at nurseries without a license but satisfying certain standards. The group emphasizes that private firms are able to offer child-care service more flexibly than public bodies, and that a voucher system and direct contract between nursery users and service suppliers will lead to greater efficiencies and an improvement in the services provided.
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