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No.189(2015/7/22)
Survey by Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare
Shows Number of Consultations Concerning Bullying and Harassment
Top for Third Consecutive Year in Individual Labour Disputes

According to the results of a survey on individual labour disputes announced by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare in June 2015, there were 238,806 consultations concerning individual labour disputes in fiscal 2014 (ended March 31, 2015), down 2.8% from the previous fiscal year. Of these consultations, 9,471 led to advice and guidance (down 5.5%) and 5,010 to mediation (down 12.3%).
Among the individual labour dispute consultations received in fiscal 2014, the most concerned bullying and harassment (62,191 cases). While the total number of consultations declined, this figure actually rose by 5.1%. Bullying and harassment accounted for 21.4% of all individual consultations, an increase of 1.70 points over the previous fiscal year. In the background of this problem of bullying and harassment in the workplace there are both environmental factors, such as the weakening of communication, intensifying competition among companies and workers, and a decline of dispute-resolving functions in the workplace, and personal factors, such as a decline in management skills and diversification of values. One of the reasons for the intensification of competition among workers and weakening of communication in the workplace may lie in the personnel management systems based on performance-oriented principles widely introduced from the mid-1990s.
The second most frequent consultation concerned dismissal (38,966 cases; 11.9% of the total; down 11.4% from the previous year). A background factor to this decline in the number of consultations about dismissals may be the economic recovery. On the other hand, the number of consultations concerning voluntary retirement, in which workers resign of their own accord, reached 34,626 cases, up 4.8% over the previous fiscal year and accounting for 11.9% of the total. Although these are categorized as voluntary retirements, such background factors as labour contract violations and dissatisfaction over the content of labour contracts may also be involved. In addition, the method of harassment by which companies force unwanted employees to voluntarily retire by, for example, moving them to so-called banishment rooms where they are given no work or forced to engage in menial tasks has become a social issue. The Labour Contract Act stipulates that dismissal for no justifiable reason is void. But if a company can pressure an employee into "voluntary retirement," it does not have to provide evidence of a justifiable reason. For companies, therefore, this is the most risk-free method of getting rid of workers. There are judicial precedents, however, in which courts have ordered employers to pay compensation for having ordered employees into such banishment rooms and set them unachievable work targets that are far removed from their skills.
By type of employment, most individual labour dispute consultations involved regular employees (91,111 cases, or 38.2% of the total). Next came part-time and temporary workers, who generally have shorter working hours and lower wages than regular employees and continue in the same job for just a few months, at 38,583 cases, or 16.2% of the total.
There are two ways of settling individual labour disputes, either through advice and guidance from directors of prefectural labour bureaus or through mediation by dispute coordinating committees. Members of the dispute coordinating committees, which consist of such people as lawyers and university professors, seek to settle disputes by mediating fairly and impartially and promoting discussions between the parties concerned.
The directors of prefectural labour bureaus offered advice and guidance in 9,471 cases, of which bullying and harassment accounted for 1,955 cases (18.9% of the total), dismissals for 1,303 cases (12.6%), voluntary retirement for 947 cases (9.2%), and lowering of working conditions for 941 cases (9.1%).
Mediation was provided in 5,010 cases, of which bullying and harassment accounted for 1,473 cases (26.7% of the total), dismissals for 1,392 cases (25.2%), termination of employment for 480 cases (8.7%), and encouragement to retire for 422 cases (7.7%).

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