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NEWS FLASH - November 2001

(Selected information on social & labour developments in Japan)

November 2001

Stance towards Spring Offensive

The President of the Japanese Electrical, Electronic & Information Unions (Denki Rengo) said in a press conference on 2 November 2001 that they will propose to affiliate unions that they will not, for the first time, pursue wage raise for the next 2002 Spring Offensive. The electrical and electronic industries have been suffering from recession in the information technology sector and large manufacturers are announcing plans to reduce their workforce. Earlier on, Japan Federation of Steel Workers' Unions (Tekko Roren) announced that it would not negotiate wage raise in the next Spring Offensive.

Japanese Trade Union Confederation (RENGO) on 1 and 2 November 2001 discussed its Spring Offensive strategy. RENGO's Basic Plan for Spring Life Offensive emphasized securing employment as a priority issue and calls for the promotion of "employment security declaration and agreement" to be adopted at the enterprise and sector level. It also states that it will look into the possibility of full-scale introduction of work sharing. On this, Mr. Sasamori, President of RENGO said that the decrease in wages in proportion to the hours reduced would be inevitable.

Mr. Okuda will head new business organization

Mr. Takashi Imai, Chairman of Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) and Mr. Hiroshi Okuda, Chairman of Japan Federation of Employers' Associations (Nikkeiren) announced on 12 November 2001 that Mr. Okuda will head the Japan Business Federation, a new organization to be created with the merger of the two organizations. Its first general meeting will be held on 28 May 2002, and will then decide its chairmanship and other executive positions officially. Mr. Okuda said he would like to do whatever he can in his capacity to assist the early revival of the Japanese economy.

The revision of the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law passed by the Diet

The revision of the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law, which aims to support both work and family responsibilities, passed the Diet on 14 November 2001, and will be effective as from April 2002. The revision was remarked by employers' duty to endeavor to establish "Nursing Leave". "Nursing Leave" is a leave that employees can take for nursing their children below elementary school age, who have illness or injury. The new law also requires that employers should not ask employees with children below elementary school age to work overtime more than 150 hours per year and 24 hours per month, if they ask for the limitation. The age of children whose parents are entitled to shorter working hours will be also raised up to three, which is now up to one. Re-examination of these revisions is imposed after three years of its enactment, which is a compromise taking into account the opposition parties' argument that "Nursing Leave" should be compulsory.

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to relax standards to recognize "karoshi"

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare announced on 15 November 2001 that its panel of medical experts have arrived at a conclusion to review the current standards for certifying brain and heart diseases in relation to the certification of Workperson's Accident Compensation Insurance Scheme. Based on the panel's conclusions, the Ministry will likely revise or relax its current standards concerning work-related brain and heart diseases, which in some cases lead to "karoshi," or death from overwork. The new standard will review the worker's working conditions in the six months before the outbreak of brain and heart diseases, whereas the current standard only takes into account one week before its outbreak. In reference to the number of overtime hours which is one of the factors that workers would accumulate fatigue, the new guideline will introduce new criteria, which is "more than 100 hours during the month before the outbreak of the disease," or "more than 80 hours per month during the two to six months before the outbreak of the disease."

Revised budget approved

The Diet passed a first complementary budget for the fiscal year 2001 on 16 November 2001. The total amount of outlay is 2 trillion 995.5 billion yen. One trillion yen is appropriated for so-called "advance programmes of reform," of which 550.1 billion yen are earmarked for employment measures.

Government and labour leaders talk on employment

A group of RENGO executives led by Mr. Kiyoshi Sasamori, the President, and top Government officials including Prime Minister Junichiro KOIZUMI himself met on 27 November 2001 to exchange views on 2002 budget drafting and other issues. RENGO requested the government to draw up a budget that focuses on employment measures and the holding of meetings between top government and labour officials, to which Mr. Koizumi agreed. The Prime Minister also said that he is willing to set up a tripartite meeting within 2001 to discuss work sharing, which is already being examined between RENGO and NIKKEIREN (Japan Federation of Employers' Associations).

Medical care system reform

A Governmental Panel, the Social Security Reform Council compiled the Outline for the Reform of the Medical Care System on 29 November 2001. The Government will draw up a plan of reform according to this Outline, which will subsequently be discussed for approval at the Ordinary Diet Session to be opened at the end of January 2002. One of the most contentious issues was the question of raising the percentage of the medical care expenses that the beneficiary have to shoulder under the employees' health insurance system. The Outline states that it will raise the percentage from 20% to 30%, but does not specify the timing of the raise.

Unemployment situation deteriorates

The unemployment rate for October was 5.4%, inching up by 0.1 percentage point from September, according to the government report released on 30 November. It went up for a second consecutive month, renewing the record for the worse. The number of the unemployed increased by 380,000 to 3.52 million, vis-a-vis the same month previous year. The job-opening ratio, which indicates the average number of jobs available to one job seeker also, went down by 0.02 point to 0.55.

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June 2001

May 2001

April 2001

(Purpose of the news flash is to provide readers with rough idea of social and labour developments in Japan. It is not an official document of the ILO. The designations employed do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the ILO concerning the legal status of any country, area or territory or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers. Reference to names of firms and commercial products and processes does not imply their endorsement by the ILO, and any failure to mention a particular firm, commercial product or process is not a sign of disapproval.)

Updated by YT/AN. Approved by TT. Last update: 22 January 2002