Temp workers turn to unions

More than 5,000 nonregular workers at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ were allowed to join its labor union in March. That step marks the first time nonregular workers at a major Japanese bank were allowed to unionize.

The result, one hopes, will allow them to provide a better life for themselves and their families, and gain recognition of just how much nonregular workers are actually contributing to companies and the economy in general.

The workers who decided to join the union were about half of the total 11,500 nonregular workers at the bank. They account for about one-fourth of the bank’s total workforce of around 48,000 people. The percentage is below that found by the government’s 2013 survey of nonregular workers. That survey showed that nonregular workers made up a record-high 38.2 percent of the workforce, over 20 million workers.

For women, the percentage of nonregular employees is 56.5 percent nationwide. Since many bank employees who engage in over-the-counter and other services at the bank’s outlets are women, the unionization will especially be to their advantage.

Surely the move will help to retain skilled nonregular workers. Increasingly companies of all kinds need trained, skilled and experienced workers. The move also reflects partial recognition that regular employees are not the only ones with those needed skills.

Nonregular workers develop a multitude of essential skills and acquire experience that often surpasses that of regular workers. However, they are typically compensated with much lower pay, less security and worse conditions.

Surely the bank now recognizes that retraining workers is time-consuming and expensive. Losing trained workers on a regular basis wastes training time and results in more errors and slower service.

For complex transactions at any workplace, but perhaps especially at a bank, good training is imperative. From now on, new nonregular workers joining the bank will also be able to unionize. That is important because it recognizes their importance, accords them status and hands them bargaining power.

Now, it remains to be seen what the union will do for these workers. The degree to which the union can help improve the conditions, salary and benefits for such workers is yet unclear. It is unlikely they will be able to negotiate complete equality with regular workers, but it is possible that the union will be able to improve many conditions for nonregular workers. Better overall treatment for nonregular employees should be a priority for all companies in Japan.

Nonregular workers have become a reality of the new Japanese economy. However, a much better solution would be to give the nonregular workers permanent status. They deserve recognition of their worth and value in social terms with higher status, and in economic terms with better pay and working conditions commensurate with their contributions.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    Japan is so fond of telling foreigners that it’s employees are the best protected in the world whereas in reality, this significant subset of workers have virtually no employment rights at all. Hypocrisy?

  • Kazuhiro Shino

    Current 2 tiers employment system is discriminatory probably illegal but non regular workers do not have any representing body to negotiate the legality of commonly practiced business scheme. Registering the workers union which can equalize the rights. Aging Japan needs stable skilled work forces which contribute to mitigate colossal national debts.