JILAF invited a total 0f 10 persons (of whom 6 were women) from four English-speaking African countries (Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia) to visit Japan from November 5 to 18.
Reflecting the fact that the participants held important posts in their national centers, affiliated organizations, or single trade unions and are enthusiastically engaged in the labour movement in their own countries, they asked many specific questions during the lectures and at places visited.
In a lecture on “The Role of Japanese Trade Unions and Issues,” they deepened their understanding of the history of the Japanese labour movement, economic trends in Japan, and the function and role of trade unions in Japan, including the present state of Japanese trade unions and issues, an outline of RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), the annual spring labour struggle for a better life, and the characteristics of Japanese industrial relations.
In their visit to Unyu Roren (All Japan Federation of Transport Workers’ Unions), the participants heard an overview of industrial policy, including the establishment of transportation discipline; labour policy, including the establishment of a wage system; the formation of trade unions and exchange; and mutual-aid efforts, including Unyu Roren’s own mutual-aid insurance scheme. They thereby learned about the role and activities of an industrial federation from a variety of angles.
In their visit to the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, the participants received lectures on the activities of the ministry’s departments, Japan’s public insurance system, and other issues and then engaged in lively discussions.
In their visit to RENGO, as well as being given an overview of RENGO’s organization, they heard from the Department of Gender Equality about legislation relating to women’s work, RENGO’s 4th Gender Equality Promotion Plan, the equal and fair treatment of men and women at work, the activities of women in general, and RENGO’s efforts during Gender Equality Month every June.
In a lecture titled “The Negotiating Skills of Trade Union Officials,” they received an explanation of basic awareness of industrial relations and measures to enhance negotiating skills, after which they divided into groups to discuss the respective standpoints, differences, and commonalities of labour and management and, making comparisons with the situation in their own countries, to identify the issues relating to the negotiating power of trade unions.
In a visit to the Japan Productivity Center, the participants received a lecture about the productivity movement and trade unions, the three guiding principles of the productivity movement, the 5S and kaizen activities, and future issues in the productivity movement and engaged in discussions. (The 5S refer to the Japanese words seiri [tidiness], seiton [orderliness, seiso [cleanliness], seiketsu [standardization], and shitsuke [discipline]. Kaizen means the continuous improvement of shop-floor work and is an effective means of raising productivity.)
In the Exchange of Views on Labour Situation meeting, the participants reported on the labour situation in their countries and issues faced by their national centers. Specifically, the participants from Kenya spoke chiefly about labour contract regulations and laws applicable to home workers and the response; the participants from South Africa reported mainly about the lay-off of workers due to stagnant economic growth and the need for social protection; the participants from Tanzania explained mainly about the worsening of the unemployment rate and job opportunities and the weakening of collective bargaining; and the participants from Zambia focused on trade union efforts in the face of labour law reform and unstable employment.
Urgent issues common to all of these countries include the response of their national centers to expansion of the informal economy and increase in the number of informal-sector workers. Through the discussions that followed, both JILAF and the invited participants deepened their understanding of the labour situation in the countries concerned.
On the first day of the RENGO regional branch program, the participants visited the Hiroshima Labour Bureau, where they heard about workstyle reform, the promotion of settlement in Hiroshima by people from metropolitan Tokyo and other regions, support for the job searching of a variety of human resources, and workers’ welfare. They then visited Hello Work Hiroshima, where they received an explanation of the employment and unemployment situation, the provisional employment rate for senior high school graduates, and the flow of employment insurance and experienced searching for jobs on the computers available to jobseekers there.
In discussions with RENGO Hiroshima, information was shared regarding regional activities and related issues.
In the workplace visit on the second day, the participants went to Mazda Motor Corporation’s Hiroshima Head Office, where they heard from the Mazda Workers’ Union about management countermeasures, workplace organization activities, improvement of the workplace environment and working conditions, life support, contributions to the local community, and international activities, thereby enabling the participants to learn about the role of a company-based union. They then observed the process of automobile manufacture in Japan by visiting the Mazda Museum and inspecting the plant assembly lines.
In a lecture from Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) on industrial relations in Japan as seen by employers, as well as an outline of Nippon Keidanren, the participants heard about industrial relations from the point of view of management, labour-management negotiations, the flow of negotiations in the annual spring labour struggle, the Japanese-style employment system, and channels of communication between labour and management.
In their visit to Zenrosai Kyokai (National Association of Workers’ Welfare and Cooperative Insurance), the participants heard about Zenrosai insurance cooperatives and their history, the security market in Japan, and the characteristics of Zenrosai insurance cooperatives, thereby deepening their understanding of the mutual-aid insurance system for secure and stable livelihoods.
The participants’ proposals in their action plans included the following:
(1) Will conduct activities contributing to the local community like the Mazda Workers’ Union, initiate dialogue with workplace union members, and promote organization strengthening and expansion. (Kenya)
(2) Taking a hint from discussions with participants from other countries, will establish a special committee for youth and women. Will build a mechanism modeled on the Hello Work system to keep the unemployment rate down to a minimum and establish financial institutions modeled on Japan’s labour banks with the cooperation of industrial federations. Will promote government-labour-management cooperation and social dialogue. (South Africa)
(3) With reference to Japan’s annual spring labour struggle, will designate May–June as a period of simultaneous collective bargaining and also improve negotiating skills and promote organization strengthening and expansion. With the understanding of management, will initiate productivity movement training in my union. (Tanzania)