First International Symposium of 2022
On July 14, 2022 (Thursday), an international symposium was held online on the topic of “The Labor-Management Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic Against the Backdrop of Constructive Industrial Relations.” A total of forty six people, including Japanese trade union officials, company personnel, academics, and the press, participated in the event. Trade union representatives from Cambodia and China, employer representatives from Cambodia, and experts from Japan were invited to speak at the symposium, which featured reports from the respective attendees as well as a panel discussion.
After opening remarks by JILAF President Yasunobu Aihara, the trade union representatives from Cambodia and China and employer representatives from Cambodia gave a report on their respective countries. Following this, a panel discussion was conducted with JILAF President Aihara as its coordinator. In attendance was Tomoaki Ishii, a professor of the School of Commerce and a representative of the Institute of Transnational Labour Studies at Meiji University.
＜Reports on Each Country & Panel Discussion＞ Summary
[Report on Cambodia: Cambodian Council of the ITUC]
In Cambodia, a space for dialogue is a tripartite discussion where the government also participates. Cambodia has various laws for building good industrial relations, and notably during the COVID-19 pandemic, various measures were taken nationwide to prevent the spread of the virus. In order to implement measures against the spread of COVID-19, it is essential to have constructive and good industrial relations. However, there are still limits to enforcing health, safety, and law compliance on site, which poses an issue. Nonetheless, we see the COVID-19 pandemic as a good opportunity to make Cambodian laws even better. In addition, labor and management and the Labor Advisory Committee are actually conducting activities more actively than before the pandemic. In order to build better industrial relations, we would like to propose that it is necessary to increase cooperation between employers and trade unions on site, to have all parties involved work sincerely, and to encourage negotiations for many labor agreements across all fields.
[Report on Cambodia: Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations]
During the COVID-19 pandemic, various measures were taken in Cambodia. Among them, vaccination was especially recommended, which allowed Cambodia to achieve the highest vaccination rate in Southeast Asia. When it comes to industrial relations, labor and management cooperated in measures against COVID-19. In order to continue business, labor and management did not suspend employment contracts, but instead agreed to temporarily cut wages, and promoted working remotely among other methods. To build even better industrial relations in the future, it is necessary to change the mindset. Labor and management must trust each other as partners in the industrial world, and this trust will serve as the foundation for effective dialogue.
[Report on China: All-China Federation of Trade Unions]
Since the beginning of this year, cases of COVID-19 in China has remained relatively low on the mainland, despite the spread of the virus in Shanghai. This is due to the government’s zero-COVID policy. The zero-COVID policy manages the spread of the virus by immediately cutting off any route of infection when a person becomes infected. This restricts the movement of some people, but allows many others to maintain their daily lives and economic activities. Although the government has enabled the resumption of economic activities while balancing infection control measures and economic development, it is a fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to China’s economy and employment. As a result of the decline in workers in the manufacturing and construction industries, which were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, various flexible employment options and new forms of employment such as platform work have emerged. Those who work these types of jobs make up just under 30% of the total working population. In addition, after resuming production following the end of the lockdown initiated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, financial difficulties caused reshuffling of personnel, wage cuts, and other negative effects, which in turn created frequent labor disputes. In particular, the food service, tourism, and accommodation industries have suffered greatly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, on the other hand, industries such as live streaming and online software development have grown significantly. To resolve labor disputes, the Chinese government and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions have established regulations on employment and wages during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the number of labor disputes arising is decreasing gradually. Along with working to reduce corporate costs and stabilize employment during the COVID-19 pandemic, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions is also implementing measures for struggling companies and workers, such as adjusting remuneration and shortening work hours through a shift system, and offering support for such changes. In one case, a company overcame the difficult situation they were in through a tripartite discussion that led them to cut the wages of their upper management by 50%, without cutting the wages of their workers. In difficult situations, it is important for labor and management to make compromises and help each other for their mutual benefit.
Summary of Panelists’ Remarks
・Cambodia’s tripartite discussion system and nomocracy are evaluated as excellent systems.
・The labor market changed dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the changes was the growth in working from home, in which IT technology is utilized. Although there are advantages and disadvantages to working from home, a survey conducted by JTUC-RENGO revealed that many Japanese workers who have experience working from home wish to continue doing so, and would like a policy to be made for it.
＜Cambodian Council of the ITUC＞
・Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a set goal of concluding a labor agreement once a year, and had notably held discussions on raising the minimum wage.
＜Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations＞
・The Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations has made various proposals to the government. It actively engages in advocacy activities, such as summarizing and presenting best practices.
・The emergence of digital platform workers during the COVID-19 pandemic was arguably a good opportunity to make a shift towards utilizing digital technology, despite the issues with digital literacy.
＜All-China Federation of Trade Unions＞
・During a time where there was no information on the pathogenicity and fatality rate of COVID-19, the virus was initially brought under control in mainland China with the initiation of large-scale lockdowns. However, in Shanghai, a policy was adopted to prevent economic activities from stagnating by only curbing the virus at points where positive cases were confirmed.
・In China, the high unemployment rate among young people is partly due to a problem where those who engage in new forms of employment are counted as unemployed in statistics. However, it is also due to people’s tendency to want to work for stable companies.
・Remote work is a good and flexible way of working and has its advantages, but it cannot be implemented across all industries. Also, we believe the emergence of remote work is the result of the spread of digital technology rather than the spread of COVID-19.
・It is essential to develop policies for platform workers. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions has focused its activities on protecting rights, and the Chinese government has clarified who is responsible for platform workers and has issued guidelines on protecting rights, etc.
＜Coordinator, President Aihara＞
・If members of trade unions are considered insiders, and students who are looking for a job and those who are seeking a job but struggling to find one are considered outsiders, the issue is figuring out how trade unions, labor and management can deliver their support to outsiders.
・For young people in Japan, the unemployment rate of those aged between fourteen and twenty four was the highest in March 2020 at 10%. Around the world, 4.7 billion vaccinations have been given. However, only 22 million have been given across low-income countries, making up no more than 0.4% of the total vaccinations given worldwide. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambodia’s tripartite system brought successful outcomes, China’s efforts to control the pandemic were deployed, and Japan’s policy on employment adjustment subsidies was enacted. While it is evident that each country took full advantage of the measures they could have and implemented them, we also need to keep in mind the reality that vaccines are not delivered to certain parts of the world.
・Can digital platform workers be a measure against COVID-19 during the pandemic? It needs to be thought of as a global initiative.
・We believe it is our role as a global organization to make good use of the energy and functions of constructive industrial relations.