The program of the Special Invitation Team, which had been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic (under the initial plan, it was scheduled to be held in November 2020), took place, like other teams, in an online format from February 22 to 26, 2021, with the participation of two persons (including one woman), one (a woman) in Estonia and one in Norway. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a serious impact in both of these developed countries. Indeed, since the participation of all four countries scheduled to take part in the initial plan became impossible, the holding of the program itself was in doubt. In addition, just before the program began, a scheduled participant in Estonia was forced to pull out in order to work in place of a colleague who had become infected and was isolating.
The team consisted of trade union activists in two countries with not only many companies from Japan but also many companies with operations in Japan. The purpose of the program was to enable the participants to learn about such topics as Japan’s industrial relations, labour-management practices, labour legislation, and efforts to improve productivity and stabilize employment, provide them with information relating to the building of constructive industrial relations, democratic trade union management, and so on, and at the same time gather information on the labour situation in their countries.
The program saw a useful exchange of related information with these countries, where social security systems essential to the stable lives of workers are said to be advanced. The participants also learned about Japan’s labour situation, social security system, and so on and appeared keen to utilize the information in activities in their own countries.
In a lecture on the role and issues of the Japanese labour movement, the participants were given an overall picture of the purpose of the program. They heard about such issues as the transformation of trade unions in the postwar society and economy of Japan and the present state of trade unions; efforts to prevent industrial disputes and secure employment stability through discussion-oriented constructive industrial relations differentiating between collective bargaining and labour-management consultations; the annual spring labour struggle; and the holding of tripartite (government-labour-management) consultations.
Regarding Japan’s labour legislation and social security system, in a lecture by JILAF, the participants studied details of the mechanisms supporting workers, and in a lecture by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, they received an outline of the ministry’s work, thus deepening their understanding.
In lectures by RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), the International Policy Division gave an outline of the RENGO Headquarters, its priority activities, and RENGO’s peace campaign, and the Welfare Policy Division explained the social security system and RENGO’s efforts to improve it, thereby deepening the participants’ understanding.
In a lecture by the Japan Productivity Center, the aim of which differed from the lecture given to other teams, after hearing about the present state of productivity in Japan, the participants learned about the challenges, and in particular the issue of productivity improvement in service industries, and also broadened their knowledge concerning response amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a lecture by Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), the participants heard about the desired form of the three guiding principles of productivity from the standpoint of employers and the contribution of trade unions to productivity improvement based on Japanese-style industrial relations and labour-management practices.
The real-time online sessions took place without any problems in the communication environment. In the follow-up session, JILAF directors answered questions from the participants, thereby deepening their understanding. The questions from the participants substantially amplified the content of the lectures, touching on such issues as the state of trade unions in prewar Japan and the possibility of applying the productivity-related lean production system to hospitals, and showed how interested the participants were in the labour situation in Japan. At the same time, JILAF heard explanations from the standpoint of workers of the situation in these two countries, where social security systems are said to be advanced, so it provided a good opportunity to make comparisons with the Japanese system.
In addition, regarding the activities of trade unions amid the spread of Covid-19 infections, a topic that was hastily added after being taken up frequently by other teams, there was a lively exchange of opinions. The participants remarked that after Covid-19 subsides, they wanted to actually visit Japan and view firsthand the activities and conditions of Japanese trade unions and related organizations.
In the closing ceremony, the participants proposed action plans, the main points of which are summarized below, and expressed their determination to further utilize the knowledge they had gained in the program based on their respective experiences.
(1) “I realized that we are the same labour movement sharing common issues, so I will consult with the person in charge of international affairs to promote further coordination.” (Norway)
(2) “I want to adopt the good points of Japan’s systems in my own country.” (Estonia)