The ‘check-off’ system

Mainichi Shimbun, 3 April 2000

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is attempting to get rid of the so-called check-off system, which allows unions to collect dues from their members through payroll deductions.

Unfortunately, the LDP's position on this issue is motivated not by the purest of intentions, and seems to be informed by a rather myopic perspective on labor-management relations in Japan.

The LDP is trying to eliminate the check-off system primarily to prevent the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and Rengo, the Japan Trade Union Confederation, from competing at the ballot box. But fear also exists within the LDP that the labor aristocracy is trying to control the political parties and topple the Cabinet. The January revision of the law regulating political donations, which banned corporations and other organizations from making political contributions to individual politicians, forms the backdrop to this LDP initiative.

The LDP Political Reform Headquarters had begun an investigation into the check-off system last fall because it suspected that the system obfuscated the flow of political funds from unions to political parties. LDP members also may have resented the fact that the DPJ benefited from political donations from Rengo-affiliated unions that had been paid dues through the check-off system.

Rengo further antagonized the LDP by its behavior during the extraordinary Diet session, which convened last fall. Rengo consistently opposed a bill to amend the public pension system, forced a continuation of deliberations, and also objected to the LDP's stance on the issue of reforming the medical insurance system.

Pensions, taxes and the medical insurance system have become increasingly important concerns to working people, however, so Rengo should not be condemned for trying to use its political clout to shape policy on these issues.

The check-off system, which is used by employers to deduct union dues, social insurance payments and taxes from the paychecks of employees, is permitted by the Labor Standards Law. The check-off system has benefited unions because it provides them with a convenient means of collecting dues and putting their finances on solid ground. According to a 1996 survey by the Labor Ministry, 94 percent of corporations employed the check-off system because it was considered to contribute to the stabilization of labor-management relations.

If the system is no longer in tune with the times, then labor and management should hold discussions to change it. But at the end of March, an LDP panel on labor practices unilaterally decided to submit a bill amending the Labor Standards Law that authorizes the check-off system. But an issue of this nature should not be determined solely by the political party that happens to be in power at the moment.

The stability of Japanese labor-management relations, of which the check-off system is an important feature, has clearly contributed to the nation's postwar economic development.

We do not support the LDP's effort to revise the Labor Standards Law as a means of repealing the check-off system. Nevertheless, the LDP will have performed a valuable service if this initiative forces us to rethink the role of unions at a time when labor's influence is declining.