Japanese Unions and the Organisation of Non-Regular Employment: A Step towards Greater Equality?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Japan has seen a strong rise in non-regular employment and industries like retail have become highly dependent on part-time and so-called arubaito workers. A fundamental dualism in the Japanese labour market not only makes that these workers offer important cost advantages but also contributes to a rich supply of potential workers in spite of the low wages and limited career perspective that non-regular employment offers. It has raised serious concerns about the fairness of employment practices, in particular as the rise has translated into greater demands on non-regular workers and contributed to rising wage inequality and the number of ‘working poor’. The rise in non-regular employment also poses a serious challenge to the unions. Japanese unionism, with its predominance of enterprise unionism (kigyō kumiai), has traditionally complemented the labour market dualism with membership limited to regular employees, the members of the ‘firm community’. However, unions in industries like retail recently have started to organise part-time workers in particular. They actually have little choice if they wish to keep their representative rights under existing union shop contracts. This paper analyses this development by drawing on labour market statistics and interviews with union representatives. A case-study of a major supermarket chain illustrates how the representation of non-regular employees has mainly focused on the development of new wage and career systems.The findings illustrate the representative conflict that exists because of the different and often contradictory interests of regular and non-regular employees. In accordance, recent developments have hardly altered the cost advantages offered by non-regular employment. However, the inclusion of non-regular employees as union members unites groups that are otherwise separated in the Japanese labour market. It puts the unions in a unique position to address the dualism in the labour market by arguing for greater equality. This will not be easy but unions may be willing to undertake significant action as the organisation of part-time workers has become the dominant approach to attract new members, and thus of crucial importance to union renewal. The unionisation of non-regular workers could therefore constitute a crucial step towards greater equality in the Japanese labour market.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationhost publication
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011
EventSecond Conference Regulating for Decent Work - ILO, Geneva
Duration: 1 Jan 1824 → …


ConferenceSecond Conference Regulating for Decent Work
CityILO, Geneva
Period1/01/24 → …


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