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Women and Unions in Contemporary Japan

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  1. A gendered explanation: the responsibility of men dominated unions
    1. The Japanese workplace is characterized by a gender gap
    2. The current status of women is not freely chosen
  2. A feminine explanation: Women organizing outside the mainstream union activity
    1. A long lasting engagement that has evolved differently
    2. Other forms of involvement for women begins to challenge mainstream unions

Post-war Japan has seen considerable change with regard to women. The 1946 Constitution guaranteed for the first time, the equality of men and women under the law. Subsequently, the revised Civil Code and a range of domestic laws, including the Fundamental Law of Education and the Labor Standards Law, prompted improvements in the legal status of women in the society as a whole. At the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1986 prohibits discrimination of women with regard to recruitment, job assignment and promotion. Despite these reforms, the equality of men and women is not achieved in practice. The persistence of a gender inequality in Japan is notably striking in the composition of the workforce and at the workplace. A simple example: the gender wage gap in Japan is twice the OECD average. In Japan, companies play an important role in the life of people, they organize and structure the entire society, the dominant force shaping the fate of women often happens to be these corporations: their rules, their management, their employees, and their union.

[...] In fact, the history of labor movements in Japan reveals that Japanese women were conscious of their poor working conditions and have initiated or largely contributed to labor movements for the improvement of the conditions of employment and the workers' quality of life. At the beginning, women's contributions were mainly individualistic and unorganized. Far from being submissive tools, female workers did not hesitate to protest through songs for instance, and escapes from factory dormitories and suicides were common methods to defy employers and reject time commitments imposed by their contracts.[8] Referring to a government survey of 1900 Tsurumi reports that, in an unnamed mill near Osaka dormitory residents and 2,046 commuting women ran away, the former figure representing 81 percent of the mill's dormitory residents, and the latter 86 percent of its commuting female workers (Tsurumi 1984). [...]

[...] In Japan, women have long been expected to be devoted to their family and home. To allow them to be available for such tasks, and to ensure that their husbands would remain dedicated employees, female participation in the paid labor force has been largely restricted to part-time or temporary work, and the women have been encouraged by diverse incentives (tax policies, work rules ) to leave their job after marriage (Schoppa 2006: 5). A higher proportion of women than men are also employed within small and medium-size firms, often non-unionized (Bishop 2005: 91). [...]

[...] The date given here are based on the research of Takashima, J (1997), "To increase the number of women to union officials", Forum: Josei to rodo 21 (Forum: Women and Work in the 21st Century), Vol No.20, cited by Broadbent, 2003: 126. Source: Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training cf. Bibliography In the 1980s, the use of workers employed on temporary contracts through agencies developed. This is known as the haken system. The use of such labor is recognized in professions where technical expertise is required or in professions which ask special competencies and special work patterns (such as translating or computer programming). [...]

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