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No.6 (2009/11/4)
Interview with Executive Director-General of JILAF Yoshio Takahashi
Mr. Yoshio Takahashi, the Executive Director-General of the Japan International Labour Foundation, was interviewed by a think tank. The following is from that interview.

The Japan International Labour Foundation was established in 1989 to promote international exchange and cooperation in the field of labour. It has been inviting people involved in trade unions from Asian and other countries to promote mutual understanding (the Invitation Program), providing training for labor organizations in developing countries, and supporting local educational and social development activities (the Field Project). We asked how the international labor movement should be advanced while economic globalization prevails.

(Aiming at the growth of trade unions through overseas cooperation)

- Please tell us about the background of the establishment of JILAF and what activities you are doing now.

JILAF was established in May 1989 by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (JTUC-RENGO) as an organization that would promote international exchange and cooperation in the field of labour. At the beginning, we started with only seven executives and staff members. Now we are doing various activities with 20 people in five groups: invitational programs, field support projects, public relations, general affairs, and financial affairs. There are four main activities, that is, invitation, field projects, human resources development, and public relations. We started with the Invitation Program right after the establishment of JILAF. We organize teams of junior trade union leaders mostly from developing countries by region and by theme, with about 10 people per team, and we invite 11 to 12 teams per year. We provide them with various programs during two weeks. We invite participants based on recommendations from each country's national center, which is a member of the International Trade Union Confederation. The total number of participants over these 20 years has reached 2,227 individuals from 126 countries and 3 regions.

- Please tell us more specifically about what you do in the Invitation Program.

The purpose of the Invitation Program is to contribute to the development of free and democratic trade unions in developing countries and to increase their social influence. To help them as much as possible, we provide them with those programs which facilitate trade unions' functions to monitor society, politics, and business management, as well as their ability to propose policies. While visiting Japan, the participants, first of all, learn about the Japanese labor movement, labor-management relations, labor administration, and the productivity movement, among other things. They also visit RENGO, the Japan Productivity Center, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, and other labour-related organizations and government offices. One week after they come to Japan, a meeting is held to exchange views on the labor situation of their countries. We also carry out a "Local RENGO program" in cooperation with Local RENGOs in 47 prefectures. Participants visit a regional branch and exchange views with local companies' labor and management, local municipalities, and others. Among each program, we always include a visit to Hiroshima or Nagasaki to visit the Peace Memorial Museum and the A-Bomb Dome. This is for them to learn about the peace movement itself and to be convinced of the importance of peace at first hand. In addition, we have been doing conducting an "invitation of trade union leaders by theme" for each specific theme.

Last year, we organized teams with focuses on green jobs and decent work, and we held an international symposium. Among the program participants who visited Japan 10 or 20 years ago, there are many who are now leaders of labour movement. There are also many who are now doing well in political and business worlds. We are proud of that too.

- So, your Invitation Program is contributing to human resources development in developing countries. I guess people who come to Japan see Japanese culture and ways of thinking for the first time. For them, it must be a series of discoveries. Such discoveries may become a trigger to initiate a new movement in their countries' labor movements.

Yes. Japanese labor-management relations and Japanese ways of management may be very unique when viewed from other countries in the world. Among developing countries, before talking about the development of trade unions, there are many countries where labor movement and the right to organize are not officially admitted. You may be arrested if you join a trade union. Even in those countries which are not like that, even though the idea of productivity movement itself is understood, they think, "If we do such a thing, we will get fired," and they hesitate to carry it out. That is often the case in reality. Besides, they do not understand how trade unions are voluntarily tackle productivity movement, and they often say, "Why do unions have to do such a thing?"

- In developing countries where labor and management are in severe conflict, things tend to turn out that way. The productivity improvement in itself has large benefits for both labor and management. If its essence is understood, it must spread well.

Yes. Most of those who said at the beginning, "It is not a trade union's work," say, "I am very interested in the activities of the productivity movement," in the evaluation session at the end of the program. The idea of decent work is also based on job security. Only when the employment contract with a company is secure one can work without worry. In Japan, the problem of regular employment versus non-regular employment is drawing close attention, but in many developing countries, regular and non-regular are mixed together. For such situations, we are using our experience in Japan and helping to increase trade unions' power and build proper labor-management relations.

- The Field Project is a pillar of JILAF along with the Invitation Program. I heard that your Field Project is also unique.

Our Field Project is unique, because it is based on trade unions' solidarity and builds a relationship of trust with their national center in which we properly understand their needs; thereby we respect their autonomy. There are some aid organizations that extend pushy support in the form of their own ideas. But we work to understand what kind of union education and social development they are interested in, and we go along with that. In the end, trade unions should stand by themselves. That is our goal. So we won't do everything in the way we want to.

- trade unions should stand alone and become a leading part by themselves to build proper labor-management relations.

Yes. The initiative is basically on the local union's side. There, we are supporting them with our funds and know-how.

- More specifically, what kind of program are you doing?

Participation-Oriented Safety Improvements by Trade Union Initiative (POSITIVE) is the core program in the field. In this program as well, we do not impose a direction we have chosen, but the trade union takes a leading position to improve their environment in terms of occupational safety and health. This program was developed jointly by JILAF and the Institute for Science of Labour. It has several stages, such as the introduction stage, the stable stage, and the development stage. By stepping up these stages, growth is achieved. So far, we have held more than 1,000 seminars in 11 countries. In fiscal 2009 we started a program in East Timor. We also put emphasis on fostering advanced trainers to increase the number of leaders through trade unions' own abilities.

- So, the support program is not for temporary growth but for future human resources development as well in its vision. In carrying out the program, have you facet any difficulties?

To carry out this program and increase productivity, we sometimes have to change the structure of a company itself. However, we cannot change the system as we would like. Local trade unions conduct checks, find out problems, propose improvement plans, and achieve understanding from both labor and management. That is important. Many Japanese-owned businesses believe that they need cooperation between labor and management, and they welcome proposals from trade unions. But some companies do not listen at all. In those cases, it is difficult to handle.

- If there is no culture of listening to a trade union's proposals, then what do you do?

"We have certain skills and many achievements. Based on these experiences, we want to propose such-and-such." We repeat this to appeal to them. There is no other way.

- Wise management is likely to notice the effectiveness of adopting the program. I heard that JILAF is also running schools. What is that about?

This is the "project for schools against child labor." At present, we are running nine informal schools in Nepal and one in India in cooperation with local trade unions. In this program, local unions prepare a school building and teachers, and JILAF provides children's uniforms and school supplies as well as teachers' salaries. JILAF's informal schools are for children ages 8 to 14. After they finish this three-year program, we support them to transfer to a formal school.

- In the medium and long term, raising children is very important. I heard you are working on AIDS seminars as a new project. How are you doing it?

Preventing HIV infection is of course important, but at the same time, preventing discrimination against HIV-positive individuals in the workplace, establishing human rights, and so on are also important. There are many challenges that trade unions should work on. Under the guidance of the School of International Health at the University of Tokyo, we have made a textbook on measures against HIV. We are helping trade union leaders understand how to treat infected people in the workplace, and we are training the trainers who guide workplaces. This program is a new program, started in March of this year as a cooperative program with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

- While talking with you, I felt it is very important to look at things from the perspective of trade unions. These days, business is bad, and morale is low in many organizations. But there are many things we can do.

(What JILAF will work on from now on)

- Today, in Japan, the decreasing labor force is a social problem. If laborers come in from foreign countries, the problem of foreign workers may emerge beyond the framework of the regular versus non-regular problem. Lastly, please tell us about JILAF's ideas on that problem.

That problem should be kept in our field of view as the next step. Rep, of Korea has an organization called the Korean International Labor Foundation (KOILAF), which is doing invitational programs similar to those of JILAF. KOILAF is doing educational programs for foreign workers in addition to the invitational programs. As part of that, KOILAF has opened Labor Counseling Centers that operate in seven languages. Here, they answer questions on various troubles reported by foreign workers. We think that JILAF also has to consider what it can do for foreign workers.

Interviewer:Institute for Career and Life Design

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