Editor:Tsutomu Uwagawa
Address:Rodo-Soken,Union Corp 3-3-1 Takinogawa,Kitaku,Tokyo,Japan(114)
Tel:03(3940)0523 Fax:03(5567)2968

Taxi Workers Fighting for Better Working Conditions and
Safe Transport Under Deregulation

Kazuhiko Kikuchi

1. Taxi Workers' Labor Conditions Are Aggravating Rapidly

      In Japan, about 260,000 taxies are at work and some 470,000 drivers are engaged in this area. Of which, taxi companies employ 420,000. About 50,000 workers are owner-drivers possessing the taxi as licensed entrepreneurs.

      Taxi workers had earned more than average workers until about 30 years before, because there used to be many more passengers. However, the decline in the number of taxi users due to the increase of privately owned cars has resulted in a relative drop in the taxi workers' wages. Today taxi drivers are considered as an occupation of low wages and poor working conditions in comparison with other professions.

      The statistics by the Labor Ministry show that the average annual income of taxi workers in 1999 was 3.08 million yens. This figure amounts only to 56 percent of that of men regular workers in other professions, 5.48 million yens.

      Taxi workers receive their wages as percentage pay for the income they earn from fares. Since 1991, the number of taxi users has continuously decreased due to the prolonged recession. On the other hand, the government deregulation policies have stimulated the increase in the number of taxis and the reduction of fares. With all these, the fare income per taxi has made a sharp drop. Accordingly, the taxi drivers' wages have continued to fall in an absolute sum since 1991 and the decrease has reached 740,000 yens a year.

      Working hours of general taxi workers in cities are from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. the following morning. They are on a straight nineteen-hour shift with three-hour rest, about eleven times a month. However, with the fare income drastically dropping, they cannot make the goal of income by the 2:00 a.m., and it has become common among taxi drivers now to work on until around 7:00 a.m. Further, many of them even go to work on off days.

      These situations show taxi drivers are working under how severe labor conditions. And the government is going to start a thorough deregulation plan for the taxi business that will make workers' actual conditions from bad to worse.

2. Enactment of a Taxi Deregulation Law in Disregard of Safety

      In May 2000, the Diet approved a bill to abolish regulations on the taxi business. The new law aims to remove the existing regulation system on supply and demand of taxi vehicles. It will also give the taxi business management free access to the market and allow them to own extra vehicles as they wish. It is very likely that on and after the year 2001, when the law comes into force, the taxi business will find itself in an extremely grave situation.

      Foreign cities that abolished regulation on the taxi business faced, without exceptions, a rapid, drastic rise in the number of taxi vehicles. In Atlanta and Seattle, U.S., and in Stockholm, Sweden, the number of taxies became twice or three times larger than before in about one or two years after the lifting of regulations. In Japan, too, they expect the same situation to occur in cities. The growth of taxi vehicles in number will naturally lead to a sharp decrease in the fare income per vehicle.

      In such circumstances, safety and reliability of the taxi service will be destructed.

      To make up for the decrease in the fare income, taxi drivers will have no other way but to extend their working hours. Taxi drivers' overwork from driving long hours plus reckless driving scrambling for passengers, will lead to the increase in traffic accidents involving taxis. This has already become a problem. In eight years between 1991 and 1999, in inverse relation to the drop of taxi workers' wages from 3.82 million to 3.08 million yens a year, the taxi accident rate per 1000 vehicles rose from 61.7 to 89.4 cases. The rate will further go up.

      Due to the decline of wages, taxi driving will become a job that cannot offer enough income for a regular worker to make a living, which will lead to the deterioration of taxi workers' quality. Taxi workers are already becoming part-timers from regular employees, and this trend is likely to be accelerated. The increase in taxi workers, who only care about making biggest possible income a day, will inevitably cause a decline in morals and services of taxi workers. It will even pose a possibility of crimes committed by taxi drivers against passengers.

      Besides the decrease in the fare income, taxi workers will face a severe attack of "streamlining" by the taxi business management. Aiming to survive the life-or-death competition amid the deregulation, the management is trying on their part to reduce as much as possible the percentage of the payment for taxi workers. For example, the management has made proposals in many places down which are to cut the wage percentage in the fare income from sixty to 55 percent, and is developing attack to Taxi workers' unions who are counter such proposals.

3. For Better Working Conditions and a Safe Taxi Service of More Availability

      As members of the All Japan Automobile Transport Workers Unions' (ATU), we have been opposing such deregulation of the taxi business. We believe that in spite of the enactment of a law to abolish regulations, it will turn the trend toward re-regulation soon as the failure of the abolition of regulation is proved.

      To achieve a safe taxi service of more availability while maintaining appropriate regulations, instead of deregulation leading to the decline of safety and reliability, ATU is carrying out the following campaigns:

1) To improve working conditions and to secure the rights of workers

      Our urgent task for the moment is to put all our energy into the struggle to prevent the possible deterioration of labor conditions due to the abolition of regulation. We will carry forward a struggle demanding regulations on working hours and driving distances, control on the minimum wage, the prohibition of a wage system that will spur workers to work long hours. At the same time, we will make efforts to organize part-time workers, the area yet to be tackled in our activities.

      We have already taken up a decisive fight against the employers' attempts carried out in different places to cut wages, to prolong working hours, and to violate workers' rights including paid vacation. For example, a taxi workers' union in Kyoto accepted in spring last year the company's proposal to agree on a temporary wage reduction under the pretext of the survival of the company, with the condition that the company would increase the wage next spring. A year after, in spring this year, the company again proposed a wage cut, and the workers stood up in a 40-day strike forcing the company to withdraw the proposal.

2) To realize political demands regarding the taxi service

      The ATU is working to achieve the realization of political demands for the development of the taxi service as a safe public transport of greater availability. This is also an effort to make the taxi service a profession in which workers can take pride.

- To enhance the welfare taxi service or special transport service. Through a positive use of the taxi service for transporting the physically disabled, elderly people, and patients on the way to and back from the hospital, increase the public subsidy for fares.
- To encourage the bus-taxi service. As a public transport in depopulated areas where the railway and bus routes have been abolished, encourage the use of a bus-like taxi service. By granting a public subsidy for fares of such a service, guarantee the means of travel to those who cannot drive a car for private use.
- To grant taxis a priority right of traffic, such as exemption from One Way. Enhance exclusive lanes and taxi stands. In cities, implement a regulation on the total amount of privately-owned cars in the traffic.
- To set taxi fares at a level sufficient for ensuring the living expenses of workers, carrying out a regular revision according to a price hike and the economic growth. Decision on fares should be made in public, so that consumers can reflect their opinions in the decision.
- To introduce a government regulation on the minimum wage and the maximum driving hours of taxi workers.
- To design a comprehensive traffic policy in communities, including the taxi service, set up a local council to take up opinions of taxi workers and citizens.

3) To establish a taxi drivers' license system

      Further, as a long-range goal, we aim to achieve the implementation of taxi-drivers' license system.

      At present, anyone can obtain a license for driving a taxi if only he or she passes an easy examination. Our idea is to, by imposing a more difficult examination, improve the status of taxi drivers and prevent taxi vehicles from unlimited increasing.
      The taxi driver's license system we are proposing is not only for granting licenses to workers for driving taxi vehicles. It aims to open the way in the future for workers to choose of their own free will a way of working most favorable for them, between alternatives such as to be employed by a company, to become a owner-driver, and to organize a workers' cooperative association.
      The writer is a member of the Executive Committee, All Japan Automobile Transport Workers Unions' (ATU).


Kimi Yamada

Characteristics of Recent Traffic Accidents in Truck Transportation

      This article focuses on serious accidents involving truck transport that occurred in recent years -- serious accidents are those defined in the Rules of Motor Vehicle Accident Reporting set by the Ministry of Transport, which include cases of a fall of vehicles, fire, collision with rolling stock, human death or serious injury, and damage to commodities. From this point of view, I will introduce the struggle of truck transport workers for a thorough investigation of the accident causes and for a safety-first transport.

      Truck transport has grown in Japan to hold a major share in the country's shipping freight traffic business market. Trucking holds 91 percent of the share by types of transport in ton terms, and 54.4 percent in ton-kilometer terms (transport tons multiplied by transport distance). Its development has caused serious problems in society, such as traffic accidents and air pollution by exhaust gases.

      Trucks for private use and those for business use carry out the trucking. Business-use trucks make up 13 percent of the total number of vehicles; while holding 78 percent of the business-use trucks make up 13 percent of the transport volume in ton-kilometers terms. Recent traffic accident cases are characterized by the increase of the accident involving business-use trucks, in contrast to a slight decrease in those involving privately owned trucks. The annual number of deaths caused by road traffic accidents has drastically decreased, from more than 11,000 in 1992 to the level of 8,000 in 1999. On the contrary, the percentage of fatal traffic accidents involving business-use trucks is rising.

Characteristics of the Deregulation Laws

      In the background of the increased proportion of business-use trucks in the serious accidents, we can see some grave effects of the deregulation through two laws on package distribution, namely, the Trucking Business Law and the Freight Forwarding Business Law.

      The points of these laws were to ease restrictions on the market access by changing the license system to the authorizing system, and restrictions on fares by replacing the authorizing system with the registration system.

      By these deregulation measures, the annual number of those entering the market has tripled in these ten years. The excessive competition in the market has resulted in the decline in market fares from the level ten years ago. In pursuit of greatest efficiency, the managements are using larger vehicles and reducing the distribution cost. The number of enterprises has reached about 52,000, 99.8 percent of which goes to small-and medium-sized enterprises. The profit gap between major enterprises and small- and medium sized ones is further widening. The total number of workers in the trucking business at present exceeds 1.2 million.

Labor Conditions of Trucking Workers

      Truckers are working under extremely poor labor conditions in comparison with the general level of working conditions of all industries. Their wages per hour are lower than those of other workers, and even large-sized truck drivers only earn 76 percent of the average. They work 300 hours and over longer than average workers a month.

      What is the All Japan Construction, Transport and General Workers' Union?

      The All Japan Construction, Transport and General Workers' Union is an industrial organization with the membership of about 76,000, and it is belonging to the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren). Its members are mostly workers engaged in transportation, construction and municipality-related businesses, and some general workers.

Characteristics of Serious Accidents that have occurred after the enforcement of Deregulation laws and Our struggle for Accident Prevention

      I will refer to three cases of serious accidents that have taken place after the enforcement of the deregulation laws, and drew particular attention in society.

   Case one
      One is the serial occurrence of rear-ending collision involving large-size trucks on freeways from in 1995 and 1996. Driving over the speed limit was the common cause of this series of accidents. A follow-up survey by the police station staff who wondered why similar accidents took place one after another made clear the whole picture of those accidents. Why all those truck drivers committed speeding, as one record showed that a truck marked an average speed of 100 km per hour between its entering the gate and leaving the gate of the speedway? In all cases, drivers were small-scale carriers, but it was revealed later that they actually were subcontractor forwarding agents used by some major home-delivery service companies.

      The home-delivery service business is in the hands of Yamato Transport Co., Ltd., Nippon Express Co., Ltd. and other big shipping freight traffic enterprises ranking top 20 and more in this business. A cutthroat competition is going on among them to hold as bigger share as possible. They competes how fast they can reach the destination, and how fast they can drive highways connecting cities to get to the destination -- these are important requirements of competition. To meet these requirements, major trucking companies started to employ subcontractors to cover the transport on the highways, the most dangerous part in delivery. This had been prohibited before the enactment of the deregulation laws.

      Believing that an important point was hidden behind such a subcontract system, we conducted a questionnaire on the actual situation of subcontract carriers in the door-to-door trucking business in spring, 1996. At that time, we were carrying out a "national campaign for shorter working hours to eliminate karoshi, death from overwork, and to protect safety and health," and the questionnaire for subcontract carriers was part of this campaign.

      The questionnaire results showed that in many cases, major delivery companies would assign subcontractors to the delivery course where drivers should leave the terminal late at night to arrive at the destination early to secure the service of taking delivery orders at a latest possible hour of the day and reaching the destination at an earliest possible time. Companies would designate the arrival time with penalties in case delay. 52.4 percent of the subcontract carriers who responded in the questionnaire answered that they would drive at more than 120 km per hour as maximum. Almost 50 percent did not take rests. 74.4 percent experienced falling asleep at the wheel. Further, more than 50 percent had "felt the danger of death while driving." Many of those subcontractors were unorganized workers, and the questionnaire revealed the incredible working conditions of those workers who were not recognized any rights.

      The results attracted attention from the mass media when made public. Particularly, a TV program of NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation, under the title of "Close-up into Today's Issues," gave a special space to the dangerous conditions of workers in the home delivery service. In this way, our campaign to demand shorter working hours and strengthening of necessary regulations for safety had a public impact.

      As the result, the Ministry of Transport made an urgent call-up to officialsof twenty-three major forwarding companies including door-to-door delivery companies and made it compulsory for them to assign a full-time "supervisor in charge of safe service." Apart from the existing full-time "service manager" that took managerial responsibilities for drivers employed by the company, a new system was introduced to make the company responsible for the subcontract workers as well. This was an important step, because with this, it was now systematically impossible for original contractors to impose sacrifices on subcontractors by forcing them overtime work, overweight loading and driving over the speed limit. After the application of this system, similar types of accidents have still occurred, but in reduced number.

   Case two
      Secondly, eleven traffic accidents involving large trailer trucks happened intensively in a short period between July and September 1996. Large trailer trucks here mean "standard-eased vehicles" of large tractors, which are granted permission to travel with speed limits when cargo on board is defined, in spite of their weight, length, width and height exceeding the legal standards, exclusively in case of carrying cargo too long to be divided (a simple substance). Trailer trucks involve danger all their own because of towing. This is why they are under strict regulations to secure safe driving. However, driving violating such requirements for permission became a common practice.

      We can see several elements that allowed such a situation. First, the Ministry of Transport promoted deregulation policies under the pretext of "giving more efficiency to distribution," such as raising the upper limit of load capacity of trucks from 30 percent to 40 in 1993. Besides, the implementation of the regulations for safety was loose; the authorities neglected their duty of checking the speed limit device, which trailer trucks were required to put on. Second, the National Police Agency and the Ministry of Construction had failed to conduct a strict check on the excess of loading capacity, Third, major consignors took advantage of the administrative authorities' looseness in implementing regulations, to have trailer truck drivers engage in illegal haulage. Regarding trailer trucks as efficient vehicles that could transport a huge quantity of cargo at lower costs, they loaded a massive cargo in bulk, though bulk shipment cargo that are not simple substances is an excess of weight limits.

      Obviously, behind the successive occurrence of accidents involving large trailer trucks was the promotion of "efficiency" through deregulation. In this respect, the responsibilities of the government and major consignors are particularly grave. From this point of view, we held in the locality where a serious accident took place, a symposium "To inspect serious accidents involving trailers," with the participation of experts and unionists as panelists. By denouncing the serious situation concerning trailer accidents, making proposals for the accident prevention, and appealing to public opinion, we pressed the government to fulfill its responsibilities. Our efforts have been successful in achieving a certain improvement; we had the world from the authorities that they would conduct a rigid check on granting recognition of "standard-eased vehicles," and that they would warn the consignor in case of violation of load limits.

   Case three
      Thirdly, many rollover accidents of tank trucks have happened, most of which were trailers, carrying oil and other dangerous objects. The problem is that, differently from vehicles' losing balance at S-shape curves, those tank trucks turned over on their side on a straight course in highways and other roads. Their drivers have a strong sense of crisis and distrust toward the authorities, because they were held responsible for the accidents on the ground that they committed negligence while on duty, though they could not identify cause of the accidents. In one case, right after the occurrence of a rollover accident on the Tokyo metropolitan highways, the driver committed a suicide by hanging himself in a park near the accident site. The news was very shocking to the public. A secondary disaster due to a tank truck's rollover into flames would block the traffic for a long time, giving grave damage to others.

      We held a symposium on this question too, informing the public of realities and pressing the government authorities to make a thorough investigation on rollover accidents to identify their causes. Affected by the deregulation measures in distribution and also by the liberalization of oil import according to the abolition of the law for temporary measures on the import of specified oil products, the trucking business is in the serious situation. The management has pushed ahead with a drastic fare cut due to the intensified competition, which has resulted in the financial crisis and unstable employment conditions in the small- and medium-sized trucking business. They have imposed ever more sacrifice on small-and medium-sized enterprise workers, forcing them to do long, intensive work and by reducing their wages. But our efforts in these years for better labor conditions and securing safety have developed finally to get the word from the Ministry of Transport this past March that it would consider measures to look deep into the causes of rollover accidents.

10 Years' Implementation of Deregulation Policies Have Made Clear to Everyone Their Harmful Effects

      In February this year, the All Japan Construction, Transport and General Workers' Union and the management jointly made representations to the government, demanding mainly measures to redress the fare reduction forced by the consignor and the unfair trade relations. An abnormal situation is prevailing in which the freight workers have no other way but to rely on a dangerous "excess of load limits, speeding, and overtime driving" to make up for the reduced fares. These factors have been the triggers for serious accidents. The present situation is the worst one in these ten years since the implementation of deregulation policies started. Voices calling for such abnormal trade environment to be redressed are growing among workers and the management in the truck transportation business.

      Pressed by these voices, the Ministry of Transport at last issued an official notice to ninety-seven consignor organizations, requesting their cooperation for the "prevention of excessive loading over the legal limits with the aim of making up the decrease in sales (due to the low fares) by quantity of cargo." Finally, faced with deregulation policies about to go over the critical line that should not be crossed, parties concerned in the truck transport business are entering a phase where they cannot back down for anything. At this stage, our struggle has bigger significance than ever.

      The writer is Vice Chair of the All Japan Construction, Transport and General Workers' Union.

Rodo-Soken Invites German Researchers to the Regular Open Study Meeting

      Rodo-Soken held on March 27 the 21st Regular Open Study Meeting "Learning the Actual Conditions of the Labor Movement in Germany," under the co-sponsorship of the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) and the Japan Center for Health and Safety of Working People (JCHS). Two of the six delegates of the Academy of Politics and Labor, attached to the University of Bremen, Germany, attended the meeting. They were visiting Japan for a regular exchange of study between Aichi Labor Institute and the Academy.

      The two German delegates addressed the meeting. Dr. Heiner Heseler gave a report under the title of "The Management of Labor Redundancies in Germany," and Dr. Rainer Muller spoke of "The Europeanization of Occupational Safety and Health." Questions and discussion followed their reports. It was the first time for Rodo-Soken to have reporters from abroad, and the meeting was very successful. The reports with the most opportune themes helped 35 participants to have an informative, valuable exchange of study. Mr. Keisuke Fuse, member of the International Bureau of Zenroren, contributed to the meeting as an interpreter.

Publication of "Wages Today - Policy of Financial Circle and Its Contradictions"

      Rodo-Soken's Study Team on Wages and Minimum Wages recently published a book "Wages Today : Financial Circle's Strategies and Contradictions. "From June 1999 to May this year, the Team carried out a profound analysis with actual proofs of the financial circle's policy on wages and its contradictions. The book is the results of tireless efforts of the team members, who held meetings many times to compile a work of theory that would bring forward a balanced argument to refute the logic of the financial circles and make clear problems of the present labor-management relations of rivalry.

The following is the book's table of contents:

Introduction: Developments of the "financial circles' new strategy" and its wage policy.
Chapter 1: Changes and features of Nikkeiren's wage policy(*),
Chapter 2: Wages by occupation and employment mobilization policy in Japan,
Chapter 3: The true nature of the achievement-based wage system and criticism toward it,
Chapter 4: Administrative reform and the achievement-based wage system for the public service,
Chapter 5: Trends in the public pension, retirement allowance, pension and welfare service,
Chapter 6: Present situation of Japan's minimum wage system and national minimum,
Chapter 7: Direction of the reconstruction of the national spring struggle toward the 21st century, Postscript.

      * Nikkeiren is the abbreviated designation of the Japan Federation of Employers' Associations.