Lobby group and union leader want better working conditions for Japan’s women
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Subway Commuter in Kyoto
Shani Alexander
Shani Alexander, Senior reporter

Ahead of upcoming labour negotiations in Japan, business federation Keidanren has announced it will push for an increase in the number of women executives in Japanese corporates, as well as urge member companies to provide more support for female employees in balancing work and family life.

With a membership comprised of 1,461 Japanese firms and 109 nationwide industrial associations, and the regional economic organisations for all of Japan’s 47 prefectures, Keidanren is Japan’s biggest lobby group and plays a vital role in annual wage negotiations between corporations and unions.

According to The Japan News, for the 2022 shunto spring labour-management negotiations, Keidanren will aim to increase the number of female directors and section chiefs who are candidates for executive positions and reduce the number of women forced to quit their jobs to care for their children or parents.

There are approximately 250,000 people nationwide shouldering “double-care” responsibilities, with about 170,000 of them women, half of whom also work to earn an income.

Reports say that, in its draft proposal, Keidanren is requesting that senior management provide policies to support balancing work and childcare, and to create a workplace environment that makes it easy for employees to take leave and return to work.

The lobby group also wants employers to consider an improvement and expansion of systems such as providing temporary allowances and setting up career consultation services, to encourage women to return to work after a long period of absence.

Last year, the business federation set a target to have women occupying more than 30% of the executive positions at major Japanese companies by 2030. To achieve this goal by 2030, the group said companies must encourage women to develop the careers they need.

Stable work for women

Elsewhere, Tomoko Yoshino, who last month became the first female head of Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, said that stable work for women has to be the top priority after the pandemic.

“The most urgent issue is to secure stable employment. Suicides have risen among women… and many ‘non-regular’ workers fear losing their jobs, while many others were laid off and ended up in dire straits after using up their savings,” said Yoshino in an interview with The Associated Press.

The number of suicides in Japan rose by 912 to 21,081 last year, the first year-on-year increase since 2009, according to an annual government report. While the number of suicides among men fell for the 11th straight year, those among women rose 15% to 7,026, the first increase in two years. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare attributed the increase to the pandemic.

When elected, Yoshimo said she would “tackle all activities at Rengo from the perspective of gender equality and diversity”. Rengo has 7 million members, and its main responsibility is to negotiate with the employers of its members, especially in shunto annual wage talks.

Yoshino also is a member of a government panel tasked with discussing ways to counter rising inequality and what Japan's new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, calls “new capitalism”.

“We are talking about all workers, including those outside of Rengo, so I would like to firmly speak up on behalf of the non-regular workers toward improving labour conditions, to protect human rights and correct disparities,” Yoshino said.

Japanese women are expected to enjoy the same rights as men at work but, in reality, those laws are not enforced. Women’s pay, benefits, and opportunities for promotion lag far behind men’s. This gender inequality is also interwoven into the country’s tax system, which disincentivises married women working full-time.