JTUC-RENGO Vision for Social Security in the 21st Century
Social Security Reforms and the Role of Trade Union
To Reform Social Security Reforms, Let Us Return to the “Origin” of Trade Unions
Social security is a system of “mutual aid” meaning “social solidarity,” which is precisely the role of trade unions. The history of social security is a record of efforts striving to gradually institutionalize the system of mutual aid at the workplace into a state-run system. However, up to now, trade unions have focused their efforts on corporate-run benefit packages, so that workers serving in government agencies and large corporations have been able to win handsome benefit packages, while at unorganized workplaces, there are a growing number of people who are not covered even by social insurance.
This “Japanese-style double-tier structure” even regulates the livelihood level of workers and has led to the development of social disparities. In order to have hopes for a future of social welfare and security that ensures the security of workers’ living, we must rebuild the “network of mutual aid” and once again recreate “social solidarity.”
Social security reforms challenge us to redefine the form of society and the challenges to be tackled by trade unions by laying their raison d’etre on the line. By returning to their “origin,” trade unions must review their organization, character and behavior from the foundation, and thus establish themselves as organizations and a movement open to society.
This is the litmus test for questioning the raison d’etre of trade unions in the 21st century. In this context, the specific challenges facing trade unions are as follows:
- (1) By adopting as a standard the reality faced by many workers serving at smaller enterprises, the role of public social security schemes, including pension, medical care and nursing care, must be strengthened. These social security services need to be improved through adequate monitoring of the use of social security expenditures and by the active participation of users in administration of these schemes.
- (2) Social insurance plans must be fully applied to all workers, including part-time, temporary and dispatched workers. To this end, the current social insurance plans, which are based on the premise of subscription by businesses, must be revised to allow subscription by individuals.
- (3) When a business enterprise can no longer maintain its welfare provisions, it should not give up these facilities without careful consideration; instead, the facilities should be socialized as public facilities for positive health and occupational health and safety activities in cooperation with local business circles and public administrations.
- (4) Voluntary welfare operations at the workplace, such as labor credit associations and workers’ benefit societies, should be rebuilt into local mutual aid networks through active collaboration with the local Retired Persons’ RENGO organizations, citizens’ groups and NGOs.
- (5) The activities of trade unions and workers’ business organizations fall under the category of “collaborative help,” which is located between “public help” and “self help.” The role of “collaborative help” must be further enlarged and at the same time expanded into new fields of welfare services such as child-raising support.
- (6) Trade unions themselves must shoulder social security reforms and the management of social security and welfare schemes, and also must also take the initiative in organizing and implementing nationwide “preventive and positive health” campaigns, including union members, in partnership with other organizations.
- (7) Trade unions should, in collaboration with local citizens’ groups and NPOs, lead the development of new local communities. Industrial federations should give positive support to Local RENGOs to provide support for workers participating into these new local communities from their workplaces.