Labor relation commissions to be beefed up

The labor ministry is considering revising the labor union law to bolster the authority of labor relations commissions, which study union members’ complaints against employers, and to speed up their investigations, according to ministry sources.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry also envisions setting up a system to encourage amicable settlements between union members and employers.

The move is in line with reform of the judicial system aimed at shortening the time taken for court trials.

The ministry plans to draw up a bill based on a report that a ministry study panel is to compile in late July. The bill is to be submitted to the ordinary Diet session next year. If passed, it would be the biggest overhaul of the labor union law since 1949.

Each prefecture has a three-member labor relations commission charged with studying complaints by union members of unjust behavior by employers, including dismissals or salary cuts because of their union affiliation.

If a complaint is deemed justified, the commission can order an employer to remedy the situation, for instance by rehiring the worker or paying the salary due.

According to the labor ministry, from 1996 to 1999 the commissions took around 800 days on average to investigate a case, and the Central Labor Relations Commission spent 1,500 days in the reinvestigation process.

It takes roughly 500 days on average to litigate labor dispute trials brought before district courts.

The ministry is eyeing allowing one of the commission’s members to order the employer to submit evidence for a case and to restrict submitting new evidence later in court.

The measure is aimed at making the employer move in line with the order given by the commission.

The ministry also hopes to set up rules on the procedures for amicable settlements.

While efforts have been made between parties for such settlements, the lack of rules has sometimes made it difficult for investigations to begin when settlement talks break down.

The ministry also plans to allow prefectural governments to decide on the number of members for labor relations commissions to accommodate the number of cases.

Other steps include having staff with legal expertise and qualifications become members of the commissions.