JILAF invited a total of 10 persons (including 6 women) from five organizations in four countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania) to visit Japan from July 6 to 19.
This time the participants came from national centers and industrial federations covering a wide range of sectors, such as the civil service, commerce, transportation, railways, and electric power, and they were aged mainly in their thirties, so it was a relatively young team. Since they were union officials actively engaged in the labour movement on a daily basis (including a social dialogue member and legal advisor, or lawyer, of the European Trade Union Confederation), they could be heard exchanging opinions among themselves every day about the program content and other matters. In the discussions they asked many constructive questions, and their eagerness to transplant Japan’s industrial relations, productivity movement, and workers’ welfare schemes in their own countries was clearly evident. They also actively engaged in Japanese culture and customs, fully using the time before and after training to visit places of scenic beauty and historic interest and experience Japanese cuisine and so on. They attempted to gain an understanding of Japan from various angles.
In the labour lectures in the first half of the program, participants showed much interest in such topics as the tripartite system, the method of concluding labour agreements and their scope of application, organization expansion, gender equality, and the process of determining minimum wages. Touching on specific matters, they repeatedly asked about such issues as the method of selecting public-interest representatives and their role in tripartite bodies and, with regard to labour agreements, the scope of their application in cases where multiple unions exist in a single company. Regarding organization expansion, after understanding the causes of the declining unionization rate to an extent, all of the participants engaged in discussions about how to organize unorganized workers, including nonregular workers. They also heard an explanation of efforts to achieve the target of a “10-million-strong RENGO,” which is a policy of RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation). At the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, the participants learned about the process of determining minimum wages and the regional minimum wage system.
In the regional RENGO program the participants visited RENGO Akita. They paid a courtesy visit to the Akita Prefecture Government Office, visited a workplace (thermal power station), Akita International University, and a Hello Work public employment office, and held discussions with RENGO Akita officials. In the courtesy visit to the prefectural government office, they heard an explanation from the deputy governor and others about measures to create jobs through the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, the utilization of natural energy taking advantage of the characteristics of the region, measures to support the passing on of traditional crafts, and other topics. The participants asked about and commented on efforts in Akita Prefecture to realize a work-life balance (including the active participation of women in the workforce) and efforts to create employment in regional cities.
At Akita International University foreign students account for about 20% of the total, and all classes are conducted in English. One of the university’s aims is to foster wide-ranging human resources who can be active on the international stage. Akita International University is one of the few universities in Japan that can boast a 100% employment rate for its graduates. In their visit, the participants were extremely interested in an explanation by the university’s vice-president, given in English, about the university’s philosophy and educational policy. Afterward they also inspected the university library, which can be used round the clock, as well as a student dormitory and cafeteria, and heard an explanation of how facilities have been designed to enable students to concentrate and study hard.
In the discussions with RENGO Akita, comments and questions focused on the roles of the regional industrial relations commission and labour tribunal and RENGO community unions, which individuals can join. The participants explained that when a labour-management dispute occurs in their own countries, the case is often settled in court and the process up to settlement takes a long time. They showed much interest in Japan’s system, whereby labour-management disputes can be settled quickly by means of the regional industrial relations commission and so on. Participants also said they wanted to consider introducing community unions back home as a system in which part-time and other nonregular workers can temporarily become union members.