JILAF invited five people from the United States of America,the French Republic and the Kingdom of Sweden to visit Japan from February 15 to 22, 2015. The three organizations were the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in the United States, the General Confederation of Labour–Workers’ Force (CGT-FO) in France, and the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO). In this invitation program, the participants engaged in discussions centered on the problems of part-time workers in the retail industry in Japan and their own countries and shared information about the labour situation in these four countries, thereby deepening their understanding of these matters.
On February 18 an international symposium was held on the theme of “Attractions and Issues of Japan’s Retail Industry” with the participation of the invited people from the three countries, Japanese trade union representatives, and experts. The symposium was attended by 46 people, who included trade unionists, scholars, and media personnel. Professor Kazushige Honda, vice-dean of the Faculty of Economics of Kokugakuin University, delivered the keynote speech titled “Present Situation and Issues of Japan’s Distribution and Retail Industry in the Global Society.” Regarding the problem of part-time workers, Professor Honda explained that part-time workers account for more than 40% of the workforce in Japan’s distribution and retail industry and that many of them, unlike in other countries, are housewives. He added that these part-time working housewives have become a core element of the workforce and that most of them are Class 3 insured persons (enrolled in the pension schemes of their spouses as dependents). Professor Honda pointed out that this structure formed by part-time working housewives is beginning to break down. As reasons for this trend, he cited the large wage gap between regular employees and part-time workers and the fact that income from part-time jobs is changing from being a supplement to the household budget to being essential for the maintenance of livelihoods.
As problems of workers in the retail industry, the trade union representatives from the three participating countries delivered reports concerning low wages and unstable working conditions, the low organization rate (although Sweden has a high organization rate of 60%), the problem of social security, and other matters. As a common problem in the United States and Sweden, it was reported that a system has been introduced by which workers receive a phone or e-mail inquiry from the company whether they are able to work that day and have to reply immediately. It was also reported that there is a movement in France to make Sundays a holiday.
After the reports by the three countries, Mr. Atsushi Yoshioka, a member of the Central Executive Committee of UA Zensen (Japanese Federation of Textile, Chemical, Food, Commercial, Service and General Workers’ Unions) joined in discussions on the realization of decent work in the retail industry and the employment policy necessary for this purpose. These discussions were coordinated by Director Yoko Murakami of the RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) Nonregular Workers’ Center. The participants agreed that the four countries share many common issues and that organization must be the top priority from now. In addition, they agreed that efforts are necessary to address policy and system issues, such as the strengthening of labour agreements through organization and the enactment of legislation, and also that trade unions must move forward in step on the basis of global solidarity.