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Freelancer Makes Debut at RENGO May Day Rally


The 93rd May Day Central Rally organized by RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) was held on April 29 at Yoyogi Park in Shibuya City, Tokyo. Although the number of participants was limited to about 5,000, or about one-eighth of the usual number, due to the COVID pandemic, the event was held outdoors for the first time in three years. The rally was also broadcast live online.

On April 30, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported on the rally as follows.

For the first time, a representative of the freelance workers that RENGO is focusing on supporting took the stage at the rally and appealed for better working conditions. Ms. SAORI, 38, who creates props for movies, spoke as follows.

“When I was a novice, it was common for me to be asked to do a job on site, not knowing the length of the shoot, compensation, etc. I once worked for four months without taking a day off. Even today, the custom of exchanging contracts in writing has not taken firm root, and many people work without checking the terms and conditions.
I entered this industry because I loved movies, but I was so busy that I had neither the time nor the energy to go to the movies. When I gave birth, I established a non-profit organization to improve the working environment in the film industry so that I could continue to work while raising my child. I want to make a society where all my colleagues can work with peace of mind.”
(Quotes above)

What Ms. SAORI has described is a problem shared by many freelance workers. The government estimates that there are 4.72 million freelance workers, but the actual number is said to be as high as 10 million. Although freelance work is considered a freer way of working than that of employed workers, the position of freelancers is often weaker than that of clients, and in many cases, they sign contracts on unfavorable terms. In addition, there are many issues that need to be resolved, such as the lack of written contracts, the inability to receive the rights of workers as stipulated by the Labor Standards Act, the working environment, and social insurance programs.

It was highly significant for RENGO to invite a representative of freelancers to speak at the May Day rally. It is the best way to appeal to society about the problems of freelance work. It was also a meaningful opportunity for union members participating in May Day to learn about the current state and key issues of freelance work.

The majority of RENGO members are employed workers, mainly full-time employees. They, too, have problems with the current work style, such as long working hours, increased workloads, and wages not increasing as much as in the past. These problems are paired with those of informal workers, including freelancers.

It is important for union members who are regular employed workers, mainly full-time workers, and non-regular workers such as part-time and contract workers, as well as freelancers and sole proprietors who work in a manner similar to employed workers, to understand each other’s working positions and issues, and to cooperate with each other toward solutions.

RENGO needs to function as a platform for solidarity among people working in various professions and occupations in today’s era of diversified work styles.

In 2007, RENGO established the Center for Non-regular Labour to further its efforts to improve the treatment of those working in non-regular employment, to secure stable employment, and to review various systems.
In addition, in July 2021, RENGO launched “Wor-Q,” a website intended to loosely link people working in diverse employment and working styles, such as freelancers, with RENGO. By recruiting network members, RENGO is developing initiatives to protect non-union members.

RENGO has also designated April as “Freelance Workers’ Month” in the sense that not only the parties concerned but also clients and related workers are encouraged to think together to solve problems, and it is holding a variety of events such as free telephone consultations, workshops, and discussions to resolve issues.

The remarks made by the freelancer representative at this May Day rally show RENGO’s commitment in this area.