Evolution of Labour Legislation in Asia

title l contents l contributors l foreword l introduction l

chapter 1 l 2 l 3 l 4 l 5 l 6 l 7 l 8 l 9 l conclusion l


Chapter 7







In 1868, the government declared the opening of the country which had been isolated for more than 300 years. It was the first step in the modernization of the country. Industrialization was started in the textile industry, where young workers gathered from poor rural areas, worked for long hours (14-15 hours a day), with low wages and very bad working hour extension and a wage cut. It was the first strike in Japan. In those days, there were several “riots” by coal miners, boycott by women textile workers and spontaneous industrial strikes. boycott by women textile workers and spontaneous industrial strikes.

The trade union movement was initiated after the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95. Trade unions, such as iron workers’ union, engine-drivers’ union, printers’ union, etc. were formed successively and went on strike one after another. They struck because workers’ wages remained low and they were forced to work for long hours. Spinning industry workers had to work on both day and night shifts throughout the day amounting to 18 hours; in silk-reeling industry, a 13-14-hour-a-day work was usual and was prolonged further during busy seasons. Men workers of railway, printing, iron industries in similar conditions went on strike for better working conditions and against dismissals.

The capitalists immediately replied to these workers’ movements. In 1889, a federation of capitalists in spinning industry made a “rule against workers’ strike”. The capitalists shut the strikers out.

The government under the Emperor’s system enacted the “Security Police Law” in 1900 to oppress the trade union movement. This Law virtually prohibited the trade unions from organizing and prohibited attacking and/or intimidating persons, inciting and/or agitating persons. The government made them report to the authority all activities such as association, meeting, collective action, and the police were allowed to interfere in these meetings. Moreover, women were prohibited from joining any political association and meeting.

Though the newly-born trade union movement was thus dealt a heavy blow by the authorities, socialist thought gradually grew up among the advanced section of the working class and revolutionary intellectuals.

Japan was obliged to put priority on defense because it developed into a modern state much later than the other advanced capitalists countries. Having insufficient raw materials and production system mainly in the light industry, Japan had to purchase munitions materials abroad. She obtained foreign currency from large-scale exportation of cheap goods made in Japan. This was made possible because of dumping, that was to compete with other countries in price reduction due to low-cost production because of low wages and longer work hours. Low wage, longer working hours and oppression of workers these were the supreme requirements for Japanese capitalism.

Poor working conditions and bad living conditions harmed the workers’ health. Especially in the textile industry, many women and younger workers contracted tuberculosis. This disease then spread over the rural areas where they came from. 

Under severe oppression, workers’ protest grew in intensity. Japan became a target of international criticism because of the workers’ low wage, hard labour and dumping in the international market.

At last in 1911, the Factory Act, the first protective labour law in Japan, was approved. The draft law had to wait 10 years before enactment because the capitalists violently protested it. Its adoption was therefore delayed and its substance mutilated. It provided for the following:

*      To limit a working day within a maximum 12 hours for women (2-hour extention was

        allowed for 15 years after its approval).

*      To prohibit night work from 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.

*      For its application only to factories employing more than 15 workers.

*      To be enforced 5 years later (1916).

As for night work, its enforcement was postponed until 1929, that is, nearly 30 years after the drafting of the “Factory Act “.

During the World War I, Japanese capitalism made rapid progress and entered the phase of monopoly capitalism. Working class grew in quality and quantity. In this period, trade union and farmers’ movements developed. In 1917, the Russian revolution occurred. In 1919, an 8-hour day system was passed at the ILO’s First Conference. In the circumstance, strikes for wage increase and an 8-hour system were frequently launched. “Movement for rice”, together with peasants, spread throughout the country.

In this period, the “Factory Act” was amended. A working day was reduced to 11 hours; limit of night work ranged from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.; it was applied in factories with over 10 workers. Although some amendments were made, it lagged far behind the laws of other advanced countries.

In 1921, a national trade union center was first formed in Japan. The following year the Japan Communist Party was founded. In 1925, General Suffrage (for men) Law was enacted together with Public Order Maintenance Law. The latter led Japan to the Dark Age. Through the Great Depression, the general crisis of capitalism sharpened. Workers were heavily hit by wage cuts, intensification of labour and mass dismissals. Workers’ resistance was violent. In 1930, 2,394 labour disputes (involving a 190,000 workers) were recorded. Communists, trade union leaders and members were arrested one after another for violation of the Public Order Maintenance Law. In 1931, Japanese imperialism launched an aggressive war into North-East district of China.

The gradually built-up war structure continued until the defeat of Japan on August 15,1945. During the period, labour laws became a dead letter and some rights already gained, though insufficient, were abrogated one after another. During war time, munitions production developed and heavy chemical and export industries were promoted. Longer working hours and intensification of labour resulted in frequent occurrence of industrial accidents and forced the workers to lead more difficult lives. The Japanese Communist Party was completely illegalized and trade unions were dissolved; workers thus lost their means for struggle.

With the enforcement of National Mobilization Law in 1938, all labour laws became invalid, and with Personal Service Drafting Law promulgated in those days, unmarried women and widows aged 14 to 40 were forced to do compul­sory work. On the other hand, all trade unions were incorporated in the “Association for Service to State through Industry”. The “Key Industry Control Law” cancelled prohibition of women’s night work and required women to do heavy and long hours with wages as low as a third of that of men.

The “Trade Union Law” which was as important as “Labour Protection Law” for workers was not enacted until the end of the War. Since 1920, with the support of the growing trade union movement, some drafts of Trade Union Law were made and some of them were laid before the Diet in vain. Firstly, it was because the authorities never recognized the modern labour-management relationship, rather based on the old social relationship which was prevalent in the rural areas from which the working force was supplied.

A change of these structure and nature required a reform of the whole society including economic and political structures. Consequently, legal recognition of a trade union, which naturally had a relationship based on agreed right and duty between capital and labour, was unattainable. The trade union movement and industrial dispute were in practice covered by the Industrial Dispute Conciliation Law to settle them in an administrative way without any guarantee of rights to organize and to strike, and, as a result, it had a similar nature with various repressive laws such as the Public Order Maintenance Law.

Secondly, it was because the trade union movement had very poor experiences. The trade union movement, though courageous and militant, was still dispersed, and the rate of workers organized in trade unions was only 7.9% in the peak before the War, in the face of strong pressure from workers, together with citizens, students and intellectuals. But the Subversive Activities Prevention Law was enacted and the intention to prohibit general strikes was skillfully incorporated in the “emergent adjustment system” introduced in the Labour Relations Adjustment Law. This is similar to the controversial “declaration of emergency” now prevailing throughout Asia. It does not expressly ban a strike, but, in case of a large scale strike, the Prime Minister’s decision compels workers to observe a 50-day “cooling-off period” allegedly to adjust the dispute. It has the effect of an all-out strike ban. 


Postwar Development of the Trade Union Movement and Demo­cratization Policy by US. Occupation Forces:

    Enactment of the New Constitution, the Trade Unions Law and the Labour Standards Law

World War II ended on August 15, 1945, when Japan surrendered unconditionally under the Potsdam Declaration.

The Potsdam Declaration issued by U.S., Britain, Soviet Union and China put Japan under an obligation of demilitarization and democratization. General MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, had carried out this occupation policy with assistance and control of the Allied Powers, and, with U.S. coming to hold substantial power in GHQ, Japan was finally under U.S. rule alone. As a result, labour laws in Japan developed corresponding to U.S. policy towards Japan, Asia and the world.

The working class who had long groaned under the Emperor’s domination and war structure was liberated only after the World War II. According to the GHQ policy to enhance democracy in Japan with the aid of trade unions, the first Trade Unions Law was enacted at the end of 1945, when the workers had already begun to organize themselves into trade unions en masse. Even before the enforcement of the “Trade Union Law”, in the 6 months previous to that as many as 3,143 unions (with a membership of 1.5 million) had been already formed. There were no trade unions before.

Japan was devastated and in confusion after the war. Industrial production and rice crops were as low as 10-50% compared to pre-war years. The people had a hard time looking for jobs. They suffered from terrible scarcities of com­modities and from hunger.

On the other hand, capitalists, losing their prospect to keep running their enterprises, began to fire workers, and as a result 4 millions jobless workers overflowed in the street. To make matters worse, with demobilized soldiers and repatriates being added, the number of jobless people amounted to 10 millions. Workers naturally began to rise up in struggle, overflowed the streets. The demobilized soldiers and repatriates expanded the ranks of the unemployed to 10 million. The workers naturally began to rise up in struggle.

It is noteworthy that Korean and Chinese war prisoners who had worked in mines under cruel treatment were the first to be up against these conditions.

After the passage of the “Trade Union Law” in 1945, “Labour Adjustment Law” was enacted in 1946, “Labour Standards Law” and “Constitution" were enforced in 1947. The new Constitution early provided four basic rights (right to organize, right of collective bargaining and right to strike). According to the concept of the Constitution, the Trade Union Law was revised and prohibited unfair labour practices and firmly guaranteed the right to strike.

With this basic labour right, trade union movement made a great stride. There were over 34,000 trade unions with a membership of 6.6 millions. This high membership rate was realized by the workers’ struggle for their rights and by the enactment of the Labour Standard Law.

Governmental officials appointed by GHQ made a round of enterprises and persuaded employers to encourage their workers to organize trade unions. Employers then ordered managerial staff to organize the rank-and-file workers. This resulted in the formation of unions with members coming from both the managerial and rank-and-file employees.

Sometimes workers organized themselves in trade unions voluntarily, but they found it easier to organize by enterprise than by occupation. Under the postwar situation, workers had no chance to contact workers from other enterprises or there was no national organization to affiliate with. It was also advantageous to organize all employees including inspectors and engineers into a trade union for the purpose of production control struggles. In addition, labour-management relations based on a seniority system and lifetime employment considerably contributed to the maintenance of such a form of organization.

An enterprise-based union is liable to turn into a company union. Particularly during disputes, conflicts often occur between workers who want to protect the company’s interests and workers wishing to protect their own interests. This confrontation is apt to split the organization.


A Change in Asian Situation and Reorientation of Occupation Policy: Deprivation of Basic Labour Rights of Public Workers

With the increasing organization of workers in enterprise-based unions came the organization of federations of industrial unions and national trade union centres. In the situation of galloping inflation and scarce food supply, the workers furiously struggled for wage increases. May Day demonstrations were held. A subsequent big demonstration for food, with the participation of about 300,000 people including workers, housewives, students and jobless people, demanded for a solution to the food problem. These struggles put forth the political demand for the “establishment of a democratic government” and greatly shook the reactionary government. It was then that the U.S. Occupation Forces exposed its anti-communist nature when it supported the government in branding the protesters “commumsts “.

As capitalists tried to reconstruct the postwar economy at the expense of the workers, the struggle against mass dismissals became more violent, reaching its climax in autumn. Following the struggle by the National Railways Workers’ and Seamen’s unions, trade unions of the press, coal mine, electric, iron and steel, printing, chemical industries struggled under the leadership of their nation­al organizations. The trade union in the electric industry, among others, went on strike, cutting electric supply to all households and big enterprises. They won.

Since the end of 1946, the struggle of government and public corporation workers went ahead with an impetus coming mainly from the struggle in private industries. The Joint Struggle Committee, consisting of the Teachers’ Union, the National Railway Workers’ Union and the State and Local Government Workers (non-outdoor) Union, entered into negotiations with the government. Trade unions in the private industries joined this struggle and a general strike was planned with the political aim of overthrowing the Cabinet. The scheduled general strike in February 1947 was to all appearances to be very powerful. This plan, however was aborted by the GHQ.

This was the time when socialist countries were being born in eastern Europe and the trade union movement was developing in capitalist countries. In Asia, revolutionary forces were gaining the upperhand in China and Korea, and, as a result, the U.S. completely changed its policy toward Japan for the purpose of containing communism. The U.S. supported the revival and strengthening of Japanese monopolies in order to turn Japan into a fortress of anti-communism and a base for aggression in Asia. Reactionary forces in Japan actively executed this policy.

Since the GHQ’s intervention in the trade union movement became more and more violent, its most typical expression was deprivation of public workers of their right of collective bargaining and to strike. In July 1948, just before the general strike by national railway and postal workers, General McArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Japan, ordering prohibition to public workers of their right of collective bargaining. In response to this letter, the government issued Ordinance No. 201 making drastic revisions of labour laws. Public workers were denied the right to conclude a collective bargaining agreement. Concerted activities of workers were totally prohibited and those who violated the strike ban were severely punished.

The national railways and government monopoly enterprises were converted into public corporations. As a result, a Public Corporation and National Enter­prise Labour Relations Law was enacted recognizing the right of collective bargaining but totally prohibiting strikes. Thus, the trade union movement was divided into three sections public workers, public corporation workers and private enterprise workers.

The restriction of basic labour rights for public workers was followed by the total revision of the Trade Union Law. The first aim of the law was to strengthen government control over a trade union’s internal affairs and activities in the name of building “independent” and “democratic” trade union organizations. This coincided with the anti-communist trend then, growing within trade unions. The second aim was to pave the way for the employers’ arbitrary abrogation of collective agreements so that they could discharge workers en masse. Until this time, collective bargaining had guaranteed the workers’ security of tenure.

It was with enforcement of the “nine principles of the Economic Stabilization Plan” in the end of 1948 that trade union laws were thus revised. These principles, it was explained, aimed at establishing an independent stable economy without foreign assistance. But, it was nothing but a policy to make the Japanese people accept obediently all difficulties. This policy forced one million workers out of work.

When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, Japan began to rearm itself in violation of the Constitution to help US war efforts. All the Central Committee members of Japan Communist Party were purged upon MacArthur’s order and political activities were all banned. Under this policy, communists and their sympathizers were purged from all places of work in private enterprises as well as in government offices more than 12,000 people were purged. At the height of this wave of purges, the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (SOHYO) was founded. It played an important role in the anti-communist labour front not declaring clearly opposition to the Korean War and acquest in the occupation policy. Special procurements required in this war took Japan to the same level of pre-war production in mining and manufacturing industries. 


Conclusion of the Separate Peace Treaty and Japan's “In­dependence” 

In spite of seeming revival of the economy due to the Korean War, the workers experienced little improvements on their lives. “Special procurements” led to employment only in Occupation Forces Works and munitions factories. Even those who happily got a job there were classified ac temporary or day workers not covered by the labour laws of Japan.

Generally speaking, unemployed workers were on the increase and longer working hours resulted in frequent occurence of industrial accidents. Price increases brought down the workers’ living standard; In addition the purge seriously weakened labour organizations.

U.S. imperialism, which was in an unfavourable position due to the Korean War, was too eager to conclude a “separate peace treaty” with Japan with a view of perpetuated “legal” domination over Japan beyond the restrictions of the Potsdam Declaration. This problem preoccupied the trade union movement. At its Annual Convention in 1951, SOHYO (General Council of Trade Unions of Japan) adopted, after a heated discussion, four principles on peace, namely “opposition to rearmament, adherance to neutrality, opposition to military bases to be installed and realization of an all-out peace treaty”. At that time, miners and electric industry workers courageously carried out a strike, rejecting intervention by the Occupation Forces and dock workers struck at main ports throughout the country to refuse military cargo work.

In disregard of the desire expressed by the wider strata of the people for an all-out peace treaty, and not a separate one, the so-called San Francisco Treaty, together with Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, was signed and ratified in the autumn of 1951. With the treaty coming into effect in April the following year, Japan was given “independence” in form, though Okinawa was still put under direct control of U.S. imperialism and numerous U.S. military bases were set up.

With the new situation after the conclusion of the treaty, government again prepared to revise labour laws. It intended to keep the effective Occupation Forces’ orders and government ordinances during occupation legal and still binding. Its central aim was the enactment of the Organization Control Law, General Strike Prohibition Law, Mass Demonstration Control Law, etc. as well as revision of three labour laws. But the workers continued to struggle through strikes. The General Strike Prohibition Bill was prevented from being adopted by strong pressure from workers, together with citizens, students and intellectuals. But the Subversive Activities Prevention Law was enacted and the intention to prohibit general strikes was skillfully incorporated into the “emergent adjustment system” introduced in the Labour Relations Adjustment Law. This is similar to the controversial “declaration of emergency” now prevailing throughout Asia. It does not expressly ban a strike, but, in case of a large-scale strike, the Prime Minister may compel workers to observe a 50-day “cooling-off” period allegedly to adjust the dispute. It has the effect of an all-out strike ban.

As for three labour laws, what the workers wanted was to recover the basic labour rights which were firstly stipulated in the laws. Far from accepting this demand, the government merely compromised through widening the range of the application of the Public Corporations and Government Enterprise Labour Relations Law.

In other words, this law covers workers of the Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation, in addition to National Railways and the Tobacco and the Salt Public Corporations which had already been covered, as well as five govern­ment enterprises postal services, state-owned forestry, printing, minting and alcoholic beverage manufacturing). This was applied accordingly to local public employees in work-site operations.

When the peace treaty was put into effect in 1952, the economic situation deteriorated. Decreased export led to overproduction and subsequent curtail­ment of operation, closure of plants, dismissals and wage cuts. These adversely affected workers. Miners and electric/industry workers were the first to fight back. The struggle was precipitated by employers’ anti-labour activities like the “rationalization plan” which meant reduction of workers, mechanization, longer working hours and wage cuts. With the formation of the council for joint struggle, two unions carried out strikes for as long as two and three months, respectively, by stopping supplying electric power to coal mines and big enterprises. Upon the urging of the monopolies, the government enacted the “Strike Action Control Law”. Strikes were put under strict control especially in mining and electric industries which were the key sections of the Japanese economy. On the other hand, monopoly control was further strengthened by the liberalization of anti-monopoly laws.

From 1953 up to the 1960, the year of revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, popular struggles were launched one after another. The strike of Japanese workers employed by U.S. military bases and peoples’ struggle against military bases were frequent resulting in a nation-wide development of the struggle against U.S. imperialism and Japanese monopolies.

After the signing of the Mutual Security Agreement, the Japanese government established the Self-Defense Forces and intended to centralize the policy power with revision of the Police Law. It also started to intervene in education through prohibition of political activities of teachers.

Various struggles broke out among trade unions and wider strata of the people against these repressive acts. The teachers’ struggle against efficiency rating and struggle against the Police Officer Duty Performance Law, were found throughout the country. These energies converged for the coming struggle against the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.


High Economic Growth and Trade Union Movement Around the ratification of JLO Convention No. 87 

In January 1960, the revised Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was signed in dis­regard of the nation’s opposition. This fact meant further incorporation of Japanese military and economic power in U.S. imperialist strategy under the name of “Japan-U.S. joint defense system”. The following month, when the Treaty was discussed at the Diet for ratification, the Diet Building was surrounded by a mass of people who were against the ratification. About 5 to 6 million workers including national railway workers aroused themselves to strike and a majority of the people supported it.

The struggle against the “rationalization” at Mitsui-Miike coal mines lasting for one year and ten months was the hottest one in the history of the Japanese trade union movement. This “rationalization” was intended by monopolies of Japan to wreck the coal industry in order to change energy resource from coal to oil, which was based upon U.S. energy policy.

Although these two struggles, after all, could not smash the intrigues designed by the government and monopolies, they had a great impact on the ruling class. It was an urgent necessity for them to split the democratic people’s front which had been formed in these struggles and strengthen the system under the new Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. With a movement for higher productivity that had already started since 1955, Japanese economy was recovering rapidly, and heavy and chemical industries such as steel, shipbuilding, petrochemical and electric machinery prospered.

Propagandizing in “the high economic growth policy” and “the income-doubling program”, the government gave the nation an illusion that Japan could prosper with the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. Cooperation between labour and management was encouraged. Leading members and activists of trade unions were invited to the U.S. to be inoculated with anti-communism and pro-Americanism. As a result, the IMF-JC, and then the Japan Confederation of Labour (DOMEI) organized in 1964, under the leadership of ZENRO splitting from the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (SOHYO), were established, and they all joined ICFTU.

Thus, the trade union movement was split, and the higher productivity campaign accompanied by technological innovation and intensification of labour was promoted at work shops. Trade unions which fought against this campaign were completely broken down by companies sometimes with the help of such right-wing organizations, Public Security Investigation Agency and the police force. In this way, labour-capital collaborating was strengthened. The government succeeded in confining the trade union movement within enterprises without revising labour laws. Even in spring labour offensive led by the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Sohyo) since 1955, there already existed the risk that each industrial union would insist on the interests of the enterprises concerned or put a priority on economic demands. Furthermore, the employment law and Unemployment Insurance Law were revised to create and mobilize the labour force in the interests of the national economy, and not to secure the workers’ right to live.

At the same period, apart from the movement in private sector industry, the movement of public corporation workers to restore the right to strike developed. The wave of “rationalization” mainly with the introduction of technological innovation affected jobs in public corporations and the working conditions and environment. Undaunted by repression, workers continued with their strikes. The government even intervened in an election of union leaders on the strength of law, and workers were often refused collective bargaining. In 1958, all the unions of public corporation workers lodged the complaint before the ILO on basic rights.

The ILO pointed out that Japanese Labour Relations Adjustment Law for Public Enterprises violated ILO Convention No. 87 and demanded for ratification of the Convention and revision of national laws. Accordingly, the govern­ment accepted it but presented a retrogressive revision of national laws in ex­change for ratification of the Convention. The workers objected and the Con­vention was not ratified. After investigating this case for 5 years, ILO sent an investigation committee to Japan. Finally, in 1965, Japan ratified ILO Convention No. 87 and the issue on revision of national laws was left to the Public Personnel Organization Council.

Another noticeable fact parallel to this was the great change in the reality of judicial decisions. At lower court level, those who participated in the struggle of simultaneous leavetaking or designated leave-taking, were found not guilty. Later, judicial precedents showed that the existing Civil Service Code which prohibited all industrial actions was unconstitutional. One decision given by the Supreme Court after the ratification of ILO Convention No. 87 questioned criminal punishment for labour disputes. This type of decision characterized the judicature from late 1960’s to 1970’s. 


New Problems in the Period of Low Eèonomic Growth

The world economy was terribly shaken by the dollar crisis of 1971 and the oil crisis of 1974. US imperialism and its Japanese allies were utterly affected by them. Japan’s imperialistic expansion into Asian countries under the name of “economic aid” was on a full scale in the latter half of the ‘60s. After the dollar and oil crises, the US asked Japan to take over the US aid to Asian countries.

The Japanese government started earnestly seeking a way to participate in political and economic activities in these Asian nations to control their policy and support the reactionary regimes with the justification that political stability is a premise for giving aid and this aid should be utilized effectively.

As early as the end of the 60’s, Japan’s high economic growth was shadowed by overproduction and stagnant consumption. Besides, as the world economy was down, it became difficult to increase export and acquire raw materials. In the 1970’s, Japanese monopoly capitalism advanced its imperialist policy to exploit Asian workers and farmers. Though high economic growth raised workers wages, inflationary policies, heavier taxes and cuts in social welfare benefits offset any real wage increases. The high economic growth also brought about new problems such as the destruction of the environment, hazardous traffic conditions and the shortage of housing. In factories and offices, workers were forced into harder work through American style labour control such as ZD, 1E2, QC, etc. and control of the trade unions, which resulted in a sharp increase in industrial accidents and professional diseases. Workers’ unions, which previously fought only for higher wages within their own companies in the spring struggle, raised other issues like opposition to higher public utility charges and prices, better social security system, pensions, taxes, pollution, housing, etc. and directed these demands to national or local governments. This is why the Spring Offensive has been called “People’s Spring Struggle” of 1977.

The dollar and oil crises brought more hardships for the workers. Simul­taneous recession and inflation impoverished many small-scale industries. According to government statistics, the real wage increase rate was 10.4% in 1973, 1.4% in 1974, then —0.3% in 1975. The 11,681 cases of bankruptcy in 1975 resulted in unemployment amounting to one million, which has been kept to this day.

Considering these severe conditions, managers enforced tightening policies in factories to save manpower, materials and money, thus driving workers to harder work.  

The government in 1978 began seeking to abolish articles on guarantee of women workers’ benefit, a part of Labour Standards Law. This was based on the proposal of the “Zaikai” (financial circle) in 1970, accepting the greater part of its demands. Important items included in this proposal were:

(1)   equal working conditions for men and women

(a)   easing the restriction on night work

(b)   repeal of overtime work restrictions

(c)   easing the restrictions on dangerous and noxious work

(d)   abolition of menstrual leave

(2)   guarantee of maternity benefits-extension of maternity leave period

(3)   establishment of separate provisions for part-time workers

Since the International Women’s Year in 1975, women have increasingly demanded for equality between men and women at work, but the government and the capitalists have distorted these demands. The capitalists did not ease the restriction on night work and overtime “for the sake of equality”. They tried to make a new standard law separately for female part-time workers and imposed more onerous conditions for women, while unstable part-time women workers are on the increase steadily during the slowing down of the economic growth.

It is putting the cart before the horse to amend the women’s working standard to match the more onerous working standards for men at a time when the worldwide tendency is toward shortening the working time. If this unfavor­able amendment is ratified, it would have a great influence on workers of other Asian countries where such a law, even if it exists, is not respected.

The struggle of the Government and Corporation Workers’ Union for the right to strike began in the 1960’s and intensified in the 1970’s. Even after the ILO Convention No. 87 was ratified, the authorities violated it prompting the union to bring the case before the ILO. In each strike the authorities unleashed violence. Though there was a 120-hour unified strike in 1974 and an eight-day historic strike at the end of 1975, the public workers’ right to strike is still unsettled.

The government was threatened by the progressive judicial decisions in favor of the labour movement in the late 60’s and it criticized and attacked it. Thereafter, considerations of ideology became important in the appointment of new judges. Since 1974, with the judgment of the case of the Agriculture Forestry Union as the turning point, the judgments of the court have become reactionary. The situation is the same for the private unions. Under the low economic growth the judiciary became more and more reactionary.


The Age of Micro-Technology Revolution and Robot: Their Effects on Workers’ Employment, Safety and Health

The 1980’s is considered the age of the micro-technological revolution. Micro-technology has rapidly expanded for several years since 1978. Trade union organisations in Europe and advanced countries such as USA had felt its serious effects on employment and workers’ health and started to take measures to meet it. Both workers and employers in Japan, however, have rather op­timistic ideas on this problem, because micro-technology has not led to drastic decrease in jobs. This is because the relatively high economic growth in Japan compared to West European countries, has been capable of absorbing the labour force into the industry as before. Also, labour relations based on the lifetime employment system and enterprise-based trade unions made it easy to organise work transfers.

Enterprises in Japan have a lifetime employment system; once employed immediately after graduation from school, workers are in principle to continue to work in the same enterprise and are seldom discharged. A worker is liable to put importance on the enterprise where he is employed and would willingly accept transfer to another job. As a result, if the introduction of micro-technology in a section creates redundant workers, they can get jobs in other sections.

The number of robots operating in Japan, now about 70 to 80% of those operating in the world, is still small. Though we have exceptional cases like a factory with only one worker operating machines with buttons and other factories where robots have replaced people, we still have to wait for their introduction in all industries. Steadily increasing introduction of micro-technology and robot will certainly require us to anticipate their possible effects.

The electric engineering industry with its remarkable introduction of micro-technology may be cited as a relevant example.

After the peak in 1973, the number of workers in the electric engineering industry kept on decreasing towards the end of the decade and a majority of the dismissed workers were women. This was caused by increased investments abroad as well as the introduction of automation and labour-saving devices to “abate management cost” in the prolonged depression since the oil crisis of 1974. it is difficult to say therefore that the decrease of workers was a result of the introduction of micro-technology.

According to the survey of DEBKI.ROREN (All-Japan Federation of Electric Engineering Workers’ Unions) in autumn of 1982 on “The Effects of Micro-Technology on Employment and Workers”, out of 277 enterprises that respond­ed (84% of them were big enterprises with more than 1,000 employees), 92.1% introduced micro-technology. More than half of them replied that the number of workers in the production process to which the micro-technology was introduced “decreased”, whereas the total number of workers “increased” in 36% of them and “decreased” in 21%. This shows that, in spite of considerable man­power reduction due to micro-technology, subsequent higher production in this period led to increase in the number of workers in other processes and sections. For example, demand for micro-electronic components grew in various fields of social activity including education and medical service, and VTR rushed into the world market as a new product in place of the tape-recorder and color television set.

DENKI-ROREN is now considering the need to meet this problem, as micro-technology will possibly have a great effect on employment and workers unless production keeps on growing.

Following are some of the possible effects of micro-technology and robots:

First, the composition of workers will change. At a newly-born shop, a main part of the working force consists of young workers with higher technique and skill, displacing artisan-like workers with traditional skills and experiences. Demand will also decrease significantly for women workers used to monotonous work at conveyor belts. Redundant skilled workers in big enterprises will have a chance to find a job in smaller enterprises whereas those in small enterprises will have difficulty transferring to work in some other trades. Women workers who become redundant will gradually be displaced, obliged to retire due to marriage, child-birth or domestic affairs. Labour-saving system might finally be realized without increasing the workforce. “Seniority lifetime employment”, traditional in Japan, will necessarily undergo a change in a workshop where workers technique and skill will play an important role.

Another important problem concerns workers’ safety and health. Serious attention has already been paid to the effect by video display terminals (VDT) in Europe and USA. An operator of VDT is prone to be affected by abnormal delivery, cataract, eruption on the face, eyestrain, etc. Attention is now gradually paid to this problem in Japan as well.

From the point of labour laws, the following require special attention:

(1)   Employment prior consultation with trade unions should be established on transfers with introduction of micro-technology.

(2)   Safety and health working environment and conditions should be improved and precautionary measures from accidents and sufficient professional training and education on safety should be undertaken.

(3)   Shorter working hours are very important in relation to better working conditions mentioned in (2). The present working hours (48 hours a week, and overtime and night work virtually imposed on men) should be shortened in order to realize the following aims:

(a)   to increase jobs as a whole by reducing working hours per worker.

(b)   to release workers from work strain. Considering the possible increase of night work along with the round-the-clock operation of micro-electronic machines and robots, workers’ health and living should be protected from such operation.

(c)   Mental fatigue of workers who are compelled to work in isolation with robots should be eased.


Some Problems To Be Settled 

After outlining the evolution of labour laws in Japan, we think that another big problem still remains whether these labour laws are effective or not. We consider this problem from the following three points of view:

1. Enterprise-based trade unions

We have already mentioned the enterprise-based trade unions prevailing in Japan with their historical background. Under the seniority and lifetime service in the same enterprise, sufficient professional training in their young days and housing and other benefits are given workers. With education provided for them to foster loyalty to the enterprise at any risk in the current fierce competition and receiving a share of higher profit for their own living. These workers are thus prone to be competitive rather than cooperative with those in other enterprises. They have a sense of having a common destiny with all people in the same enterprise, even with employers. In other words, they are apt to support labor-management cooperation. A united struggle on the industrial level is therefore difficult to achieve. Labour agreements often include provisions that a trade union should only consist of workers employed by the enterprise concerned, and that outsiders should not be recognized in collective bargaining.

2.   Trade Union Split

If an enterprise-based union becomes militant the employer always tries to split that union. They endeavor to organize another union, mainly relying on supervisors or on those eager for promotion. Employers usually render assistance to pro-company urions and discriminate in so many ways in favor of this union.

3. Unorganized Workers

Workers organized into enterprise-based unions are only about 30% of the total workforce. The majority of workers in medium and small enterprises are outside the organization. Their working conditions which are already bad tend to deteriorate further. Many people, including rapidly increasing part-timers and not under the application of the labour laws.



<Table 1>


Main Labour Laws in Japan



(1)      Constitution of Japan




(2)      Trade Union Law

(3)      Labour Relations Adjustment Law

(4)      Public Corporation and National Enterprise Labour Relations Law

(5)      Local Public Enterprise Labour Relations Law

(6)      Law concerning the Control of Methods of Acts of Dispute in Electric Enterprise and Coal Mining





(7)      Labour Standards Law

(8)      Security of Wage Payment Law

(9)      Minimum Wages Law

(10)    Industrial Homework Law




(11)    Industrial Safety and Health Law

(12)    Working Environment Measurement Law

(13)    Pneumoconiosis Law

(14)    Industrial Injury Pervention Organisation Law




(15)    Employment Measures Law

(16)    Employment Security Law

(17)    Emergency Unemployment Countermeasures Law

(18)    Law concerning Special Measures for the Promotion of Employment of Middle-Aged and Older

           Persons, etc.

(19)    Physically Handicapped Persons’ Employment Promotion Law

(20)    Law concerning Temporary Measures for Workers Displaced from Specified Depressed


(21)    Law concerning Temporary Measures for Displaced Workers in Specified Depressed Areas

(22)    Law concerning Temporary Measures for Displaced Coal Mine Workers

(23)    Port Labour Law

(24)    Law concerning the Improvement of Employment, etc. of Construction Workers




(25)    Vocational Training Law




(26)    Workmen’s Accident Compensation Insurance Law

(27)    Employment Insurance Law

(28)    Law concerning the Collection of Premiums on Labour Insurance

(29)    Law concerning Labour Insurance Referee and Labour Insurance Appeal Committee




(30)    Japan Institute of Labour Law

(31)    Labourers’ Credit Co-operative Law

(32)    Law for the Promotion of Workers’ Property Accumulation

(33)    Smaller Enterprise Retirement Allowance Mutual Aid Law

(34)    Labour Welfare Projects Corporation Law

(35)    Employment Promotion Projects Corporation Law

(36)    Working Women Welfare Law

(37)    Working Youth Welfare Law

(38)    Ministry of Labour Establishment Law




<table 2>


Year World Situation Situation in Japan
Politico-Economical Situation Workers' Situation and Labour Movement Labour and Repressive Laws
1868 3rd Conference of First International Meiji Restoration. Opening of the country Peasants' uprising. Frequent uprising of miners  
1872   First national silk mill opened    
1886 General strike for and 8-hour day in USA (Origin of May Day)   First strike in Japan; about 100 silk mill women workers fought against lower wage and for better conditions  
1887       Promulgation and enforcement of peace regulations
1889 Foundation of Second International      
1894-5   Sino-Japanese War    
1897     Beginning of independent, trade union movement; frequent strike actions thereafter (metal, railways, printing etc.)  
1900       Promulgation of Security Police Law (Assembly and Political organisation banned)
1906   Russo-Japanese War Formation of Japan Socialist Party  
1910   Japan-Korea Annexation Trade (Complete colonialization of Korea Oppression on anarchists  
1911     Strike action of more than 6,000 Tokyo municipal railway workers Promulgation of Factory Act (First protective law for workers; enforced in 1916)
1914-18 First World War      
1917 Russian socialist Revolution   Frequent strike actions for wage increase, etc.  
1918     Nation-wide violent action "for rice"  
1919 Foundation of Third International

Adoption of a 8-hour day at first ILO Conference

  Shipbuilding, steel, transport, etc. workers frequently went on strike for a 8-hour day  
1920 Foundation of League of Nations   First May Day demonstration in Japan (for minimum wage system, against unemployment.)  
1921     38,000 shipbuilding workers waged one-month strike (Biggest before the War)

Foundation of Japan Labour Confederation (First national center)

1922     Foundation of Japan Communist Party  
1923   Great Earthquake Mass slaughter of more than 6,000 Koreans in Japan

Massacre of workers by the army

1925   Adoption of Universal Suffrage Law (for men of more than 24) Foundation of Japan Trade Union Council Enactment of Maintenance Public Order Law
1927   Occurrence of financial crisis    
1928   First election by universal suffrage Mass arrest of communists Retrogressive revision of Maintenance of Public Order Law (Death penalty applied)
1929 Occurrence of Great Depression   Wage cut, intensified work and mass dismissals under industrial rationalization policy  
1931 Disorder in world monetary system Promulgation and enforcement of Key Industry Control Law

Outbreak of Manchurian Incident

Expansion of munitions production

Promotion of heavy chemical and export industries (longer working hours, intensified work, frequent industrial accidents)

1935   Military coup d'etat Destruction of Japan Communist Party central leadership Ban on May Day celebration
1937 Recurrence of great Depression Outbreak of Chinese-Japanese War

Promulgation of three laws on wartime control

1938   Foundation of Federation for Service to State through Industry   Promulgation of National Mobilization Law
1939 Outbreak of Second World War     Promulgation of Personal Service Drafting Law
1940   Formation of Japan Association for Service to State through Industry    
1941   Outbreak of Pacific War with sudden attack on Pearl Harbour    
1943 Italy's unconditional surrender   433 industrial disputes with 16,694 participants. 2,424 disputes of sharecroppers  
1945 Germany's unconditional surrender

Inaugural Conference of WFTU

Foundation of United Nations

Japan's surrender with acceptance of Potsdam Declaration

Order of Five Reforms by GHQ (of Occupation Forces)

Release of 3,000 political prisoners

Formation of Japan socialist Party

Promulgation of Trade Union Laq (Enforced in 1946)
1946     Great demonstration for food

Formation of national trade union centres

Successive strikes against dismissals (National railway, seamen, newspapers, electric industry)

Adoption at UN Far Eastern Commission of 16 principles on Japanese trade union

Adoption of Labour Relations Adjustment Law

Promulgation of Constitution

1947 Declaration of Truman Doctrin

Announcement of Marshall Plan

    GHQ's suppression on general strike to be held on February 1

Promulgation of Labour Standards Law

Enforcement of Constitution

Promulgation of National Public Service Personnel Law (Enforced in 1948)

1948 Foundation of Dimocratic People's Republic of Korea   Postal Workers' Federation's branches launched regional strikes

GHQ's declaration of nine principles on economic stabilization

Promulgation of Government Ordinance No. 201 (Ban on publicemployees' dispute)
1949 Formation of NATO

Foundation of people's Republic of China

Formation of ICFTU

  Dismissal of 100,000 national railway workers Promulgation of Organisation Control Law

Enforcement of Public Corporation and National Enterprise Labour Relations Adjustment Law

1950 Outbreak of Korea War   Purge by MacArther, commander-in-chief of Occupation forces, of 24 member of Japan Communist Party Central Commuttee

Inaugural Conference of SOHYO (General Council of Trade Unions of Japan

Raging wave of a red purge (9,611 workers in private industry, and 1,171 employees in government bodies)

Enactment of Local Public Service Personnel Law
1951 Peace negotiation in San Francisco

Signature to Japan-U.S. Security Treaty

Affiliation with ILO and UNESCO Formation of Action Committee against Revision of Labour Laws Second revision of Trade Union Law
1952 European Defense Community won six countries' signature

Asian -Pacific Peace Conference with 41 countries

Effectuation of two treaties concluded in San Francisco Three waves of general strike against Subversive Activities Prevention Law with 7 million man-days (Biggest after the War)

Strike by Electric Industry Workers' and Miners' unions

Publication of outline on Subversive Activities Prevention Law

Promulgation and enforcement of the afore-said Law

1953 Signature to Treaty of Armistice on Korean War

Sharp decline in stocks in New York

Signature to Japan-U.S. Mutual Security Agreement Upsurge of struggle against U.S. military bases

Strike Action launched by munitions factory workers' unions

Adoption by Japan Employers' Federation (NIKKEIREN) of seven basic principles on labour (including higher productivity, rationalization)

Inaugural Conference of All-Japan Trade Union Congress (ZENRO-KAIGI)

Opposition of Japan Trachers' Union (NIKKYOSO) to two bills on education

Enctment of Strike Action Control Law
1954 Signature to Treaty of Armistice on Indochinese war Formation of Self- Defense Forces 640,000 unemployed workers (Highest so far)  
1955 Asian Nations' Congress in New Delhi

Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung

Establishment of Japan Productivity Centre World Conference against A and H Bombs  
1956   Government's condemnation of Spring Offensive organized by SOHYO. It's warning made against public employees' unions Better result for progressive forces at Upper House election  
1958     Public employees unions lodged a complaint before ILO concerning basic labour rights (ILO convention No. 87)

NIKKYOSO organized the struggle against effiency rating

Struggle against Police Officer Duty performance Law developed

Introduction of a bill for revision of Police Officer Duty Performance Law
1959     Successive strike actions by workers employed by small enterprises  
1960   Revision of Japan-U.S. Security Treaty

High growth economic policy promoted

Struggle against revision of Japan-U.S. Security Treaty

Struggle of coal miners at Mitsui-Mike mines

Introduction of a bill for revision of Public Corporations and Government Enterprises Labour Relations Law
1963     Mighty blast at Mike mine (Death of 458 workers)

Successive occurrence of accidents at mines and railways

1964 Spread of aggressive war in Vietnam   Successive bankruptcy of small enterprises

Eastablishment of All-Japan Confederation of Labour (DOMEI)

Visit of ILO Drayer Commission to Japan





1965   Conclision of Japan-ROK Treaty Formation of IMF-JC (International Metal Federation-Japan Council) Ratification of ILO Convention No. 87
1966     United strike action against Vietnam War on October 21 participated by 2,106,000 workers  
1969     Struggle for aborgation of Japan-U.S. security Treaty and return of Okinawa

National railway authority organized higher productivity drive

Enactment or revision of Laws concerning employment, health, labour safety, etc.
1970   Automatic extention of Japan-U.S. Security Treaty    
1971 Dollar crisis      
1972   Return of Okinawa   Judicial administration became more reactionary after 1973
1974 Oil crisis      
1975 Liberation of the whole of Vietnam   Strike action to recover "the right to strike"; general strike by transport workers continued for 8 days  



title l contents l contributors l foreword l introduction l

chapter 1 l 2 l 3 l 4 l 5 l 6 l 7 l 8 l 9 l conclusion l