Chiaki Shiga is well acquainted with the cold-shoulder treatment union organizers face when trying to recruit new members.

As chief of the National Community Union branch in charge of soliciting pharmacists, she was the first employee of a nationwide pharmacy chain to become a member of the union.

“Only people who have the experience of trying to say something (to management) on their own can understand how difficult it is,” Shiga said.

She joined the NCU, which was established two years ago by labor unions across the country, when her employer suggested that she retire early at the time the chain was to merge with another.

Management later withdrew its suggestion, but then demanded that employees accept a monthly pay cut of 3,000 yen when the chain again underwent a merger.

She tried to convince fellow workers who were upset by requests to join the union — but they opted for the salary cutback instead of paying union dues and being blacklisted by management.

Shiga began to solicit her fellow workers in earnest last summer, after some women who had become pregnant said they could not take days off because of their workload and asked her for advice.

She succeeded in recruiting four more people into the union.

“One nice thing about joining the union is that a person can appreciate other people’s pain as his or her own problem,” she said.

The ratio of organized labor against the total workforce in Japan fell to 19.6 percent as of the end of June, rewriting the record low set after World War II.

Amid this backdrop, regional unions, whose distinctive feature is that anyone who works can become a member, regardless of the place of employment, have become a focus of attention.

Regional unions are often places of refuge for employees at companies where unions do not exist, with some handling about 1,200 consultations a year. They take up problems such as redundancies or pay cuts.

Many part-time workers, temporary staffers and foreigners are also members of regional unions, which chiefly focus on improving working standards. There are now more than 100 regional unions across the country.

At the 900-member Tokyo Union, part-time workers and temp staff account for nearly 40 percent of members.

Subtle changes have taken place within the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the nation’s largest labor umbrella body, after the NCU became a member last year.

For the first time, Rengo has drawn up guidelines of measures aimed at preventing the unlawful dispatch of temp staff to companies.

A senior Rengo official said he has high expectations for regional unions’ activities.

“Members of (traditional) unions are beginning to realize that lowering the labor standards of part-time workers and temp staff could affect full-time employees,” he said.

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