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HOME  > Past issues  > 2007 October 17 - 23  > Government panel proposes basic labor rights for public service employees
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2007 October 17 - 23 [LABOR]

Government panel proposes basic labor rights for public service employees

October 20, 2007
A government panel discussing basic labor rights for public service employees has drawn up a report proposing a right to collective bargaining for them.

The Headquarters for Administrative Reform’s task force submitted the report on October 18 to Watanabe Yoshimi, administrative reform minister.

In the report, the task force called for a reform to establish a system to determine working conditions through negotiations between labor and management.

As to whether firefighters and prison guards who are currently denied the right to strike and other basic labor rights should have the right to unionize, the task force only listed the pros and cons of doing so.

This should be seen as highly problematic since the right to bargain can only be effective if the right to strike is guaranteed.

It is unacceptable that the task force did not recommend giving firefighters and prison guards the right to unionize in spite of the fact that doing so is an international trend.

While clearly calling for restoring the right to conclude labor agreements to public service workers, the report said, “It is necessary to carefully decide on the subject by taking into account the cost of reform.” This leaves a room for retrogression.

It is also problematic that the panel’s report refers to the possibility that the right to conclude labor agreements could be restricted for minority unions. Such a provision could violate the constitutional freedom of association.

Zenroren Secretary General Odagawa Yoshikazu on October 19 published a comment on the report, saying, “While the task force proposal has progressive aspects, including the call for restoring the right to collective agreement for public service employees, it contains problems in that it lists pros and cons regarding whether public service workers should have the right to strike and unionize. Zenroren calls on all workers concerned to work together to establish the right to conclude labor agreements.”

Rengo Secretary General Koga Nobuaki said, “It is important that the panel called for a comprehensive reform concerning basic labor rights.”

In Japan, public service employees were deprived of the right to strike in 1948 by order of the Occupation Forces. Their right to unionize and right to bargain were restricted.

Today, public service workers, excluding police officers and firefighters, have the right to unionize but are denied the right to strike as well as the right to conclude legally-binding agreements. Their salary levels are subject to recommendations by the National Personnel Authority.

In 2002, the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO) maintaining that depriving public service workers of basic labor rights is a violation of the ILO Convention.

The ILO three times between 2002 and 2006 recommended that the Japanese government give public service employees basic labor rights.

The recommendations by the task force at this time can be conducive to taking a step forward for the first time in 60 years thanks to persistent union struggles.
- Akahata, October 20, 2007
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