Arjan Keizer, Manchester Business School, gives a talk for the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies.
The rise in non-regular employment poses a major challenge to Japanese mainstream unions which have long limited organisation to regular employees as members of the firm community while non-regular workers were considered non- or quasi-members at best. However, several unions in retail, in particular those affiliated with the industry union UA Zensen, have successfully organised part-time workers to the extent that they now constitute the majority of members. The seminar discusses these initiatives by drawing on interviews with representatives of Rengo, UA Zensen and three affiliated enterprise unions at major supermarkets, and addresses the implications for both the position of part-time workers and the character of Japanese unions. It finds that unionisation has contributed to a stronger integration of these workers in the systems of industrial relations and human resource management. Important developments include their inclusion in collective bargaining during the annual shunto and union participation in the development of inclusive personnel systems which offer new career chances. However, the developments remain strongly shaped by the dualism in the labour market and unionization has hardly addressed the secondary position of non-regular workers. Moreover, it has not fundamentally changed but actually confirmed the character of Japanese unionism. These unions have extended membership to the firm community but maintain their firm-based and cooperative character. It confirms how they are strongly embedded in the labour market and wider society, and suggests that more substantial change would require a new perspective on the position of and equality between regular and non-regular employees.