1. Facing up to pre-COVID-19 issues
In the fall of 2019, as RENGO celebrated its 30th anniversary, we put forth “RENGO Vision – A Secure Society based on Work – Protecting, Connecting, and Creating.” Inheriting and deepening the sense of values that RENGO has set as the basis for its movements, we drew up this vision for society with a view towards the year 2035.
The background to our proposal was the expansion of an unstable employment situation in Japan, the contraction of the middle class, and the widening of poverty and the inequality gap, at a time when market fundamentalism was sweeping the world. Behind this lay a strong awareness of issues involving socioeconomic sustainability, including Japan’s accelerating population decline, ultra-low birthrate, and aging population, the barely advancing reinforcement of social safety net functions, the shift to an industrial structure that transcends individual companies’ efforts to secure competitiveness, the advance of the gig economy, and the deterioration of the communities that foster regions.
While the labour force is an indispensable element for the growth and development of the socio-economy, Japan’s population is on the decline, and further innovation in information technology has found relatively positive acceptance. Amid expectations for dramatic improvement in convenience for consumers, there is also anxiety over negative aspects that this may bring to the future of labour. A vision for human-centric technological innovation and its pursuit is of increasing importance.
At the same time, increasingly frequent and intense natural disasters associated with climate change, conflicts and terrorism, suppression of citizens, the spread of racial discrimination, and other extremely serious situations are emerging around the world. Cooperation and action by the international community are essential for solving these issues. At the same time, we cannot afford to look away from the reality behind these issues, which has arguably been invited by the international community itself, including indifference towards the natural environment, the rise of populist political forces based on short-term perspectives, and conflicts and divisions among nations, ethnic groups and races.
Amid these circumstances, there are growing expectations towards movements aimed at realizing inclusive growth and peace worldwide, such as promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the expansion of ESG investment. Within these movements, what contributions can our labour movement make in solving social issues? Our role should be to drive a sound democracy by utilizing the social resources of labour movements to build a society in which all can live in safety and security, with a basis in diversity.
2. Facing up to issues that have come into relief
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed society. Even in Japan, the effects of the prolonged pandemic have hit many working people and their families hard. Employment, wages, and working conditions remain under threat. At the same time, the vulnerability of social safety nets has been thrown into sharp relief. In particular, many of our colleagues, including part-time workers, fixed-term contract workers, temporary contract workers, freelancers, women, foreigners, and students, find themselves in difficult situations. Telework has spread rapidly as a way of working that offers a greater degree of freedom. To take root, however, this work must address a number of issues including structuring personnel systems to evaluate individuals, shouldering the costs of introducing equipment, dealing with lack of daily communication, assurance of physical and mental health, and human resource development under online environments, as well as apprehensions over telework as a hotbed for domestic violence. In “Fair Work,” the human rights of all people are respected, and all are able to work fairly and equitably with recognition of each other’s diversity, on equal footing regardless of gender, age, nationality, presence of disabilities, form of work, and other differences. The time for the societal transformation needed to achieve this is now.
The pandemic has uncovered a decisive issue in the inability to deliver necessary benefits and support at the right time, due to lagging digital infrastructure. The development of social infrastructure that allows access to the benefits of digitalization while properly protecting personal information should be seen as the foundation for a society in which no one is left behind, as well as for dealing with pandemics and disasters.
On top of this, we now face a giant wave of change. Accelerating digital transformation (DX) and the “carbon neutrality in 2050” movement to cut emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050, declared by the government as a global warming countermeasure, are expected to drastically change the nature of industry, employment, and society.
We must promote “fair transition” that minimizes negative impacts generated by these changes, and must take transformation as an opportunity to achieve ways of employment and work that are better for working people.
To pave the way towards that, it is urgent that we bring to concrete fruition safety nets for employment and living packaged with appropriate benefits, vocational training, and employment support, and labour mobility without unemployment.
Economic and administrative issues brought about by the concentration of population in major urban areas, regional impoverishment, and disparities among regions have also come sharply into view. At a time when initiatives for local revitalization to build sustainable and attractive regions are of high importance, the division of roles between national and local government, and the importance of and visions for the public sector in local regions, are coming under question anew.
In the face of a pandemic that arouses unease in the citizenry, the words and deeds of national leaders have drawn attention. This can be seen as a testament to the importance of trust in the government in breaking through crises, as a foundation for integrating society while respecting the dignity and diversity of individuals, and in fostering a mindset that seeks to overcome varied problems while working to harmonize progress with stability. Here in Japan, the establishment and development of political forces that share a philosophy with RENGO on the basis of protecting the lives and livelihoods of individuals can be considered vital for overcoming the problems highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sharing this recognition with many colleagues and further advancing the restructuring of our movement, with the achievement of the RENGO Vision founded on sustainability and inclusion kept in mind, is the task imposed on those of us gathered under the banner of RENGO.
Fair transition: The concept of minimizing the negative impacts associated with periods of economic and social transition, such as response to climate change and the advance of DX. Advocated by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), it is also incorporated into the Paris Agreement on the prevention of global warming, the Japanese government’s “Long-Term Strategy under the Paris Agreement as Growth Strategy,” joint statements by the G7 and G20, and policy documents of United Nations-related bodies. Ensuring fair transition requires predicting the negative impacts of changes in industrial structure, etc. on regional economies and employment, and enacting necessary measures based on social dialogues.
1. Building a new style of movements
Many working colleagues have been facing severe circumstances under the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing up to this situation, we will make every effort for the maintenance and creation of employment, improvement of wages and working conditions, and establishment of social safety nets. To that end, our style of movements itself must evolve.
Amid the pandemic, our 16th term was a two-year period in which we explored various means of communication while reaffirming the importance of face-to-face dialogue. It provided a key opportunity to consider the future of the labour movement and our daily activities. We must take advantage of this overhaul to explore whether communication among union members, local labour unions, constituent organizations, regional RENGO organizations, and RENGO headquarters conveys mutual enthusiasm whether offline or online, and whether it connects to the collective power of movements and their activities, as well as whether the transmission of our daily efforts reaches individuals in the field and leads to understanding, empathy, and participation. Many organizations have pointed out issues with the foundation for activities, such as fading awareness of participation in the labour movement among union members, the difficulty in securing human resources to serve as officers, and lagging gender equality. However, great expectations have been placed on labour unions and the RENGO movement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Building relationships with working colleagues who have been estranged from trade union activities or who could not know of the existence of RENGO is of great significance in pioneering new fields in RENGO movements. Accordingly, we will appropriately fuse aspects of both offline and online and, during the 17th term, will discuss and establish a style of labour movements adapted to changes that include “loose connections.” We will further raise the position of movements to be “always at your side” together with all working colleagues, whether in the workplace or in the community.
The collective labour relations that Japan’s labour movement has built up over the years are becoming all the more important. We must play the roles of a core presence that represents the voices of working colleagues, a driving force for change in the workplace, industry, society, and the world, and a base for communicating the appeal of the labour movement backed by a sound productivity movement. We wish to reaffirm that further participation by union members in activities, and the widening of collective labour relations through organizational expansion, are extremely important elements not only for the sustainability of the labour movement but also for a new economy and society built on solidarity and security for all working colleagues.
As we long for a new style of movements for RENGO, we ourselves must embrace a mindset of challenge and enhance the value of movements. At the same time, to achieve the society that we seek, it is vital that we engage in three-way social dialogues among government, labour, and management, as well as active dialogues with a wide range of members of society. This calls for the enhancement of a RENGO Platform rooted in communities, and the strengthening of collaboration with the Rengo Research Institute for Advancement of Living Standards (RENGO-RIALS), the Japan International Labour Foundation (JILAF), the Institute of Labour Education and Culture (ILEC), Taishokusha-RENGO, as well as with workers’ voluntary welfare business organizations such as the National Council of Workers’ Welfare, the National Association of Labour Banks, and Kokumin Kyosai co-op, as well as NPOs and opinion leaders possessing diverse knowledge. What is needed of our 17th term movements is a virtuous cycle that takes a serious view of Japan’s labour movement from the viewpoint of society, and communicates the functions, policies, and movements shouldered by RENGO to as many people as possible, and connects this to agreement, participation, and action. RENGO will protect the workplace, connect communities, and create a society enriched by gender equality and diversity.
2. Further promotion of our Reform Packages during the 3-term, 6-year period
In order to achieve the society that RENGO seeks, in our 16th term Movement Policy we put forth four Reform Packages ((1) Areas of movement and prioritization; (2) Organizational structure/operation; (3) Securing and development of human resources; and (4) Finances) to rebuild RENGO movements and reinforce the foundations for their practice.
In the subsequent two years of efforts, we have worked to efficiently manage limited movement resources by means including linking the structure of RENGO headquarters with prioritized areas for movements. We have made steady progress, including initiatives involving freelancing and other ambiguous forms of employment, strengthening of systems related to labour consultation and organization, studies aimed at development of human resources to lead the next generation of movements, and transitioning to organizational discussions on financial issues in response to the Working Group on Transitioning to a New Structure.