UNI-LCJ Future World of Work Forum

UNI-LCJ Future World of Work Forum

More work is needed from the Government's side to fully grasp how digitalisation will affect workers and work in Japan. UNI LCJ Forum on the Future of Work discusses the need of a new social contract

Over 80 leading Japanese trade unionists were gathered at a UNI-Liaison Council Japan Forum on the topic of the Future World of Work. UNI’s Christina Colclough was invited to speak about how artificial intelligence, big data and robotics will change our work, the skills required to work and the way we work. She stressed the importance of data protection, and why UNI has entered into cooperation with IEEE to create a global standard for employer governance of employee data.

40% of workers are on irregular contracts blocking them from social rights, pension and much more.

Christina Colclough

She explained:

“Many companies monitor, store and use data that they derive from their employees. This can be personal identifiable information, but also data that comes from monitoring work flows and work patterns. The thing is, across the world, employees have no right of access to the data on them. Nor can they ask for personal data to be deleted if they leave a company. This must change. Our project with IEEE will hopefully create a globally applicable standard for good workplace data governance.”

Colclough also took notice of the growing number of workers on irregular contracts in Japan. A staggering 40% of all workers. She mentioned that the rise of non-standard employment is happening across the world, and that we all must demand changes to our social security systems.

“Many workers are partially or entirely outside of the social security system simply because they are forced to be self-employed or work too irregularly. This we must change. All workers, in all forms of employment, must have the same strong social and fundamental rights. As the digital economy truly opens our labour markets to become global, and as the future of work will be more fluid and flexible, we need to revamp and modernise our social security. If we don’t, the consequences will be devastating and frankly unacceptable.”

After UNI’s presentation, Mr. Ito, Counsellor, Minister’s Secretariat, Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau from Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry presented the Japanese government’s many, but in his words, also fragmented initiatives aimed at preparing Japan for the digital era. He put particular emphasis on the need to reduce working hours amongst the group of regular employees. Indeed, many Japanese workers work more than 80 hours overtime per month. At the same time, and this seems paradoxical, there is the growing number of irregular workers who have insecure income and piecemeal work. 

Japan’s population is shrinking rapidly, which is one of the reasons why Japanese companies and workers are positive towards the introduction of robotics and AI in the workplace. However, the challenges facing the many small and medium-sized companies are many, and Mr Ito urged the unions to work constructively with the employers to find good solutions. He admitted though that the government’s initiatives have failed so far to focus on the way digitalisation will affect workers.

The New Social Contract

After both presentations, the audience raised many questions. Colclough received a question on the future social contract and what that should include, she replied:

“We must ensure that all workers are protected by social and fundamental rights. We must demand that all workers including the self-employed, have the rights and access to training, and we must ensure a balance of power in the industrial relations, so workers’ needs are respected. So we must organise, organise, organise!”

Mr Ito was asked to explain the government’s position on TiSA – the trade in services agreement – that UNI’s report all too clearly shows will have a negative effect on workers and working conditions, but also on data protection and data rights. Mr Ito’s answer was vague, and did not provide any clarity on why the Japanese government favours the free flow of data in many trade discussions, including in the WTO.

The future world of work is one of UNIs key priorities. We are indeed the global voice for services workers, and are breaking through into new ground all the time. Keep an eye on this website to read about exciting new prospects with the big 6 tech companies in the world.