A cyberspace labor union set up two years ago to settle disputes via the Internet is expected to play a major role in the future as working conditions continue to diversify.

The Japan Union, inaugurated in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward in July 1999, began canvassing for members by posting rules and guidance for membership on its Web site.

Soon afterward, e-mail and telephone calls from disgruntled workers seeking mediation in labor disputes began flowing in.

The union now has about 750 members.

“I have been engaged in labor movements for 30 years, but this was the first time a labor dispute had been resolved without face to face contact between both sides,” said Genji Ishikawa, vice chairman of the union.

Ishikawa was referring to a dispute between a man in his 40s, who had worked for a catering firm in Okayama Prefecture, and the company.

The man claimed bullying by a colleague at their workplace had forced him to take a leave of absence from the company. Angry and sleepless, he joined the union to seek their assistance in the dispute.

Ishikawa negotiated with the company’s management through the Internet. By the end of October, he had succeeded in collecting unpaid wages for the man and obtaining a letter of apology from the colleague in question.

One week later, the union also succeeded in resolving a dispute involving a woman in Sapporo who was forced to quit her company due to bullying.

“We hope we can cooperate with workers in local cities where it is hard for them to organize labor unions,” Ishikawa said.

Japan’s largest labor federation, the 7.44 million-strong Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), is meanwhile trying to change its image as a group solely for organized full-time workers by demanding wage increases for unorganized part-timers.

Behind the move are increases in the number of part-time workers and those not seeking permanent jobs, known in Japan as “freeters.”

“The annual spring labor talks have been aimed primarily at higher wages for full-time workers, motivated in part by wide coverage of such wages by the press,” Rengo President Etsuya Washio said. “But such an offensive is no longer functioning well.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.