Employment Relations Between Japan & Singapore
This essay aims to compare the industrial relations in both Singapore and Japan. It will first indentify both countries industrial relation system, whether it is unitarist, pluralist or radical. It will then touch on the various aspects in the industrial relation system: trade unions, system to resolving industrial conflicts, wages related policies and discrimination at work. In addition, it will look at the policy of lifetime employment and seniority in wages, policies which Japan companies have been well-known for adopting.
This essay will then conclude and summary, to what extend are both system similar or different, after comparing the various aspects as listed above. Industrial relations refer to the relationship between employers, workers and/or the government. It can also include trade unions who work to protect the interest of workers under them. Industrial relations system varies among different countries, due to the different political, social, ecological, legal and economical factors that can affect the effectiveness of each system (Tan 2007).
Singapore industrial relations system tends to be more pluralistic in nature. Trade unions are welcomed, and collective bargaining, together with compromise among employers and trade unions, are encouraged in order to resolve industrial conflicts. Singapore adopts a tripartite system in various areas; many labour related committees, guidelines and policies in Singapore are tripartite in nature. These labour-related committees consist of representatives from the 3 actors: the government, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).
This is to ensure that any guidelines, policies and recommendations made by these committees are fair and look after the interest of the 3 different parties (Tan 2007). Japan, on the other hand, is slightly inclined towards a unitarist system. Though trade unions are allowed in Japan, over 90% of these unions are enterprise union (The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training 2006). Enterprise unions are unions of a particular company, membership are only given to non supervisory employees of that firm, regardless of their department or work specialization.
According to Kawanishi (1992), many large firms actually consist of 2 enterprise union, a large conservative union and a small radical union. This ‘enterprise multiple unionism system’ result in the management, together with the large union, working together to “deny workers genuine representation” (Matsuzaki 1992, p. 618) from the small radical union. This shows companies are more unitaristic in nature, they believe in being able to solve their own problems within their firm, without the need for external parties to interfere.
Many companies are able to solve their internal conflict, very much due to the fact that Japanese believe in harmony, in making concessions to one another so as to achieve mutual co-operation and harmony in the company (Elbo 2004). For Singapore, NTUC serve as the main body for all trade unions in Singapore, and is considered a ‘national trade union for trade unions’, where their members are trade unions. NTUC currently has 60 trade unions and 6 associations as affiliated groups, representing over 500,000 NTUC members.
For any tripartite committees in Singapore, representatives are chosen from NTUC (National Trades Union Congress 2009). SNEF, on the other hand, are a ‘national trade union for companies’, where only registered companies in Singapore are allowed to join. They currently have more than 1800 members, and are an employer counterpart to NTUC. Similarly, representatives are chosen from SNEF to join any tripartite committees (Singapore National Employers Federation 2004). This shows that union movement in Singapore is very focus and united, with 1 national body for both unions and employers.
In Japan, however, union movement are fragmented and divided. There are 3 national trade union centres in Japan: the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), and the National Trade Union Council (Zenrokyo), with Rengo being the largest of the 3. Rengo’s affiliations are mostly trade unions of large corporations, or trade unions of medium and small enterprises. Zenroren’s affiliations, on the other hand, are mostly small trade unions in large firms or trade unions in small and medium enterprises (Aida 2002).
Each of these national trade union centres comprises of different members, thus their focus on protecting the interest of their members can be quite different. Despite the harmonious nature of Japanese people, there are still conflicts that cannot be resolved within the enterprise union and the firm. Most of these unresolved conflicts occur because many firms are conducting restructuring and retrenchment during this period of economic uncertainty. When these conflicts happen, they can approach the local government mediation body to help conciliate and make a decision.