Japan remains one of the last advanced economies which still refuses to recognise the basic labour rights for public service workers. JICHIRO President, Atsushi KAWAMOTO discusses the labour movement's attempts to challenge this paradigm through the ILC's Committee on the Application of Standards which will hear the case of Japan on June 4th.
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What are the key issues that public workers in Japan are currently facing?
Our public service workers have been consistently deprived of their basic labour rights, and the situation has being manipulated by those with political power in Japan. Public service workers such as fire-fighters are still not given the right to organise into unions. In the Diet, or Japan’s National Parliament, we had a bill in 2011 which would have allowed us to have a proper discussion on the violation of ILO Conventions Nos 87 and 98 – but unfortunately it was cancelled without any tangible debate or discussion because of the ensuing dissolution of the House of Representatives.
What role does the ILC play in labour negotiations for your union?
The purpose of my presence is to present the reality of Japan's public service employees – and to bring to light the fact that basic labour rights for public service employees are not being recognised. The ILC gives us a chance to speak directly to our government.
What is the importance of adding an international element and audience to your domestic struggle?
One thing for sure is that the government did not want to be on the CAS shortlist! Looking at the short-listed countries, Japan certainly sticks out like a sore thumb. I think that this is important symbolically. Our journey to obtain full recognition of public servant workers’ basic labour rights will certainly not end after the case is debated – we need to ensure that the outcomes are brought back to Japan and we can use this case to strengthen our negotiation with the Government.
How can PSI be of assistance to our Japanese affiliates in this struggle?
We are looking forward to the interventions from PSI Secretariat and/or a selection of Italian or unions in other countries on our behalf during the CAS Committee. I am very encouraged by those who expressed their strong, strong interest and willingness to make interventions on our behalf once we knew Japan was on the shortlist. I think that this helps us in applying pressure on the Government through the strength in the number of the interventions.
What sorts of outcome from the ILO CAS hearing are you hoping for?
One good outcome would be to raise the awareness of the uniqueness of the Japanese case. The key aspect is that Japan is one of the only advanced nations which continues not to give public service workers the full recognition of their basic labour rights, including the right to organise for fire-fighters – this is quite unique.
We have spent over a year and a half to two years or so, laying the groundwork for this moment. Finally this case is gaining recognition. This is the result of our preparation. The intervention on the 4th of June will be a big moment – we need to use this to make sure that basic labour rights for public service workers are recognised – and institutionalised.