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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 January 11 - 17  > Union campaign blocks planned closure of public hospital
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2017 January 11 - 17 [LABOR]

Union campaign blocks planned closure of public hospital

January 11, 2017
A labor union at a public hospital in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo, has succeeded in foiling a plan to transfer the hospital to a private company by campaigning together with local residents. Through the campaign, the union organized the majority of workers at the hospital.

Utsunomiya Hospital, located in the southern part of Utsunomiya City in Tochigi, is run by an independent administrative agency, the Japan Community Healthcare Organization (JCHO). The medical facility, which was founded 70 years ago as a Social Insurance Hospital, is operating as the central healthcare institution in the region.

In December 2015, it came to light that a private medical corporation called Nakayamakai applied to the Health Minister to take over the hospital.

The application filed by the corporation contained a plan to “move the functions” of Utsunomiya Hospital to another medical institution operated by the corporation in the heart of the city about five years after acquisition.

In April 2016, the union at Utsunomiya Hospital held a meeting to explain the transfer issue to workers. A total of 120 workers, almost all the employees at the facility, attended. Nakayamakai also held a briefing for residents in May, but it did not refer to its plan to close down the public hospital.

With the aim of informing local people about the truth behind the planned transfer, the union launched a campaign with the help of unions at other JCHO institutions and the Tochigi prefectural federation of medical workers’ unions. From May to June, they delivered some 6,000 leaflets to families in the area and carried out street actions many times. After that, local opinion rapidly leaned toward opposition to the plan.

In July, representatives of local residents submitted to the city government and assembly around 75,000 petition signatures calling for the continuation of Utsunomiya Hospital. In response to the governor’s inquiry, the Tochigi Medical Association stated that it is “firmly opposed” to the transfer. In August, two federations of residents’ associations also expressed opposition to the plan.

Pushed by these moves, the governor and the city mayor requested the Health Minister to disapprove the plan. In the end, the transfer project was scrapped.

As the union led the anti-transfer campaign, it gained trust inside and outside the facility and 70 workers became union members. The union, which had been a tiny organization until recently, has developed into one organizing a majority of the workers.

The union secretary, Abe Hiroyuki, said, “Taking advantage of our increased union strength, we will fight against the central government policy of reducing the number of hospital beds.”
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