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2013 Survey on Trade Unions:
Union Density Rate Records Lowest-Ever Level

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) released the results of its 2013 Basic Survey of Trade Unions on December 17. This annual survey, which covers all trade unions in Japan, seeks to clarify the actual trade union situation, such as the number of trade unions and union members and the distribution of union members at enterprise, industrial, and national levels.

Number of Trade Unions and Union Members
As of June 30, 2013, the number of single trade unions in Japan was 25,532, and the total number of their members was 9,875,000. Compared to the previous year, the number of single trade unions had decreased by 243 (-0.9%), and their membership had dropped by 17,000 (-0.2%). These were the lowest levels recorded since the survey began in 1990.

The estimated unionization ratio (that is, the ratio of union members to the total number of employed persons) was 17.7%, down 0.2% from the previous year. The number of women union members was 3,034,000, an increase of 44,000 (1.5%), and the estimated unionization ratio among women (that is, the ratio of women union members to the total number of employed women) was 12.6%, the same level as in the previous year.

Membership by Industry
By industry, the manufacturing industry had the highest union membership at 2,662,000 (27.1% of the total), followed by the wholesale and retail industry at 1,256,000 (12.8% of the total) and then the public sector at 908,000 (9.2% of the total).

The biggest year-on-year increase in union members was seen in the wholesale and retail industry, which recorded an increase of 46,000 (up 3.8%). This was followed by the hotel, restaurant, and catering industry with an increase of 17,000 (up 11.7%). Substantial declines of union membership were seen in the manufacturing industry (down 33,000, or 1.2%) and the public sector (down 21,000, or 2.5%).

Membership by Company Size
The number of union members in private companies (enterprise-based unions) was 8,314,000, an increase of 25,000 (0.3%) over the previous year. By company size, the total number of union members in companies with 1,000 employees or more was 5,290,000 (63.6% of the total). Companies with 300-999 employees had 1,187,000 union members (14.3% of the total), and companies with 100-299 employees had 635,000 union members (7.6% of the total).

Membership of Part-Time Workers
The number of part-time workers belonging to unions was 914,000, an increase of 77,000 (9.2%) over the previous year. Part-time workers accounted for 9.3% of all union members, and their estimated unionization ratio was 9.3%. Both of these ratios were the highest ever.

RENGO's Response
In response, General Secretary Rikio Kozu of RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) commented on the same day as the release of the survey results that it is regrettable that the downward trends of both the number of trade union members and the unionization rate have not been halted and that the number of workers being left outside trade unions has increased. General Secretary Kozu recognized that these trends will make the proper distribution of income through collective labor-management relations and the realization of decent work more difficult in Japan, which is supposed to be an "employment-oriented society."

General Secretary Kozu added, however, that even in such adverse circumstances, the membership of RENGO had increased to 6,840,000 members, a rise of 5,000 members over the previous year, and the ratio of RENGO members to total trade union members had increased to 69.3%, up 0.2 points over the previous year. He noted that RENGO's success in increasing its membership despite the fall in the number of union members overall was thanks to the all-out efforts of RENGO and related organizations in holding activities.

General Secretary Kozu emphasized that the unionization of unorganized workers and building of collective labour-management relations are fundamental for realizing a "secure society built around work as its core," which is RENGO's aim, and are essential for working people, enterprises, and industries as well.

Finally, touching on RENGO's policy of actively expanding its organization from the present 6.8 million-strong organization to a "10 million-strong RENGO" by 2020, General Secretary Kozu stated that RENGO has already started new organizing activities by establishing "special organizing teams" in cooperation with affiliates and regional branches.

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