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90% of Labour Unions Say Labour–Management Relations Are Stable, While Sogo Seibu Labour Union Establishes Right to Strike


On June 28, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare released the results of its “2022 Survey on LabourManagement Negotiations and Related Matters”. The purpose of the survey is to clarify the current situations of collective bargaining, labour disputes, and the conclusion of collective agreements of labour unions with their respective managements in the changing labour environment, with regard to labour unions in the private sector.

(Summary of Results)
Looking at the perception of labourmanagement relations at labour unions, 51.9% (59.0% in the 2021 survey) answered that these are “stable” and 37.6% (33.8%) answered that these are “generally stable”. The percentage of unions recognizing the situation as “stable” was 89.5% (92.9%), with 7.1% (5.0%) as “undecided”, 1.5% ( 1.4%) as “somewhat unstable”, and 1.0% (0.6%) as “unstable”. About 90% (89.5%) of the unions consider labourmanagement relations to be stable.

By company size, 93.1% of those with “5,000 or more employees”, 93.8% of those with “1,000 to 4,999 employees”, 89.2% of those with “500 to 999 employees”, 88.6% of those with “300 to 499 employees”, 84.8% of those with “100 to 299 employees”, and 82.4% of those with “30 to 99 employees” indicated that they consider labour–management relations to be “stable”. Generally, the larger the size of the company, the higher the percentage of “stable” responses.

Responses about the subjects of labourmanagement negotiations over the past three years (multiple responses) included “wages” at 64.6% and “wage system” at 57.6%. 95.5% of the unions answered that there had been “no labour disputes” in the past three years, with the most common reason given as no conflicting issues.
In the past three years, the response “matters concerning wages and retirement benefits” was highest at 72.6% (74.9% in the 2020 survey), when looking at “some kind of negotiations between labour and management” (multiple responses). This was followed by 70.0% (74.1%) for “working hours, holidays and vacations” and 60.4% (61.0%) for “employment and personnel affairs”.

In the past three years, 68.2% (70.5% in the 2020 survey) practiced collective bargaining with their employers, while 30.7% (29.4%) did not practice collective bargaining.

Looking at labour disputes between unions and employers over the past three years, 3.5% (2.7% in the 2020 survey) said there were labour disputes, while an overwhelming 95.5% (97.2%) said there were no labour disputes.

Regarding the labour unions with no labour disputes, the most common reason given (multiple responses, up to 3 main responses) was “because there was no case of conflict” at 54.3% (55.8%). This was followed by 38.1% (34.7%) for “there was a case of conflict, but it was resolved through discussion”, and 11.7% (12.5%) for “there was a case of conflict, but it was not important enough to bring into a labour dispute”.

When asked about the most important means of resolving various labourmanagement issues in the future, “collective bargaining” was the most important at 49.8% (50.7% in the 2020 survey). This was followed by “labourmanagement consultations” at 43.3% (44.9%), “grievance bodies” at 1.7% (0.9% ), and “dispute action” at 0.7% (0.9%).

As described above, labourmanagement relations in the private sector are extremely stable, with few cases of conflict escalating into labour disputes, most of which are resolved through collective bargaining or labourmanagement consultations.

Meanwhile, the labour union of major department store Sogo & Seibu established the right to strike on July 25 after a vote by its members resulted in a 93% approval rate. The union is expressing concern over the sale of the department store by parent company Seven & i Holdings Co. to an investment fund, and over maintaining jobs.

Yasuhiro Teraoka, chairman of the central executive committee of the Sogo & Seibu Labour Union, said, “From the employees’ point of view, Seven & i Holdings’ response is seen as insincere, and we recognize that the approval rate this time represents the consensus of all our members. The survival of Sogo & Seibu itself is at stake. Instead of striking immediately, we need to increase our bargaining power and hold labourmanagement talks first”, he said, adding that he would like to hold talks with management with a view to exercising the right to strike. (NHK)

Seven & i’s management has been in talks with the labour union, but has been unable to gain their understanding, and has twice postponed the timing of the sale, which was originally set for February of this year.
According to UA Zensen, an industrial union that also includes labour unions from department stores, supermarkets, and other distribution industries, there has not been a strike by a major department store labour union for at least the last 20 years or so.

While it is desirable to have stable labourmanagement relations in Japan, where labour disputes are extremely rare, a labour union must stand firmly against management when the employment or working conditions of its members is threatened.
In this respect, the Sogo & Seibu Labour Union, which has established the right to strike in case of emergency while leaving room for discussion with management through labourmanagement consultations, must have the trust of its members, as evidenced by the high approval rate of more than 93%. We hope that all unions in Japan will likewise stand up for their members when they need to fight for them, while still maintaining an emphasis on discussion.