Around The World

with Harry Knowles*

According to Government figures, despite the financial downturn in Japan, the unionization rate in the world's second largest economy increased slightly for the first time since 1975. The estimated percentage of union members among all employees for 2009 was 18.5 percent, up 0.4 percent from last year. Although marginal, the increase marks the first time in 34 years in which union membership showed consecutive yearly growth.

As in other industrialized nations, union density in Japan has been declining in the postwar era. In Japan, the number of workers joining unions peaked in 1949 at 55.8 percent, steadily declining over the last few decades to less than 20 percent in 2003. Similarly, the percentage of U.S. employed workers in unions hit its zenith in 1954 at 28.3 percent, By 2003, just 11.5 percent of employed workers were union members.

The recent pick-up in Japan also mirrors U.S. statistics. According UCLA's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. over the past two years the U.S. unionization rate increased from 12 percent to 12.4 percent,


In September 2008, the Institute for Employment Research (Institut für Arbeitsmarktforschung, IAB) published new data on bargaining coverage and the distribution of works councils.

In 2007, 39% of all workplaces in western Germany and 24% of all those in eastern Germany were covered by collective bargaining agreements. This constituted a coverage of 63% of employees in western Germany and about 54% of employees in eastern Germany. In comparison to 2004 levels, these figures represent a decline in bargaining coverage of five percentage points in western Germany and an increase of one percentage point in eastern Germany. This data highlights two important aspects of the German industrial relations system - sectoral collective bargaining and works councils.

The data show that the sectoral collective agreement remains the predominant type of collective agreement (even in eastern Germany, company-level collective agreements are only to be found in a relatively small minority of establishments). However, in comparison to 2004, total bargaining coverage of employees declined for example by nine percentage points in the non-profit sector in western Germany, whereas it increased by 11 percentage points in the public sector. The coverage of works councils has remained healthy compared with 2004. The current findings show that the works council remains by far the most prominent form of employee representation. .


A study of collective bargaining activity in multinational companies operating in Ireland as of February 2009 show that the level of collective bargaining coverage in multinationals is higher than that in the private sector overall. However the study also shows that in recent years, however, there is increased evidence of so-called 'double-breasting' by multinationals in Ireland: older unionised sites are often unionised, whereas newer sites are increasingly non-union. Collective bargaining tends to be less prevalent in US multinationals than in multinationals of other nationalities.

In comparison to the declining collective bargaining coverage in the Irish private sector generally, bargaining coverage remains reasonably high in large multinationals operating in Ireland, particularly among Irish, UK and European MNCs. This contrasts with the significantly lower coverage among US multinationals, many of which prefer to impliment their own organization specific HRM arrangements in Irish subsidiaries. Significantly, state policy in Ireland has shifted from encouraging incoming MNCs to recognize unions for collective bargaining purposes to supporting an environment which encourages multinationals to develop their own company-specific arrangements.

A coordinated decentralisation process in both manufacturing and banking has taken place in Denmark over the last thirty years. Over this time, more decisions about wage and working conditions have been taken at company level, although without cutting the bonds to the central level; a process known as centralised decentralisation.

This decentralisation has had a significant effect on wage formation. In both sectors the focus on wage flexibility as a means to better performance of both sides in the company has resulted in an introduction of especially performance-related pay systems. This development, however, has taken place within the collective bargaining system.

Moreover, various wage supplements, including the 'cafeteria' or 'free-choice' model, have become increasingly popular within the Danish manufacturing and banking sectors. However, there appears to be a trend towards various trade offs in the different wage supplements including the 'cafeteria' model. This leads to some concern that the increasing ability of individual employees to trade their wages against reduced working hours, longer holiday entitlements, shares and bonds, might mean that these employees could fail to accumulate enough pension entitlements as these depend on their actual salary rather than their negotiated salary.

In addition, the extensive use of performance-related measures and supplements rather than basic salary increases pressure on individual employees to perform well at work., thus increasing competition between them which could have negative implications for the work environment, especially if access to the wage statistics becomes widely available among employees.

However, others may well argue that wage flexibility is a means to maintain flexible workplaces and competitive companies and hereby to maintain employment in general and jobs in Denmark in particular. .


The ruling Grand National Party's enactment this month of a labor law amendment bill presents the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) with a new set of challenges. The labor law revision's ban on payments to full-time unionists becomes effective in July. In addition, in earlyJanuary, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology mete out disciplinary measures to 89 members of the Korean Teachers & Educational Workers' Union, including the dismissal of 14 teachers cited for participation in the public release of a second emergency declaration in July 2009. The first emergency declaration issued in June had criticized the Lee administration's educational policies and an estimated 28,600 teachers endorsed the second emergency declaration.


LabourStart is co-sponsoring the online labor film database: together with the DC Labor Film Fest. This extraordinary resource includes no fewer than 1,465 union films and videos. A fantastic resource for trade unionists everywhere .

It is also co-sponsoring the online labor film festival site:, now featuring thirty such festivals around the world - featuring festivals in Argentina, Canada, Ireland, Korea, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and the USA. You can help keep this list up-to-date and inclusive by emailing .

Harry Knowles, Work and Organisational Studies, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Sydney.

Posted January 2010

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