Extension Social Insurance Coverage in Japan: The Role of the Labour and Social Security Attorney System (Sharoushi)

Labour and Social Security Attorneys, known in Japan as “Sharoushi,” function independently, akin to solicitors, under the supervision of the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Their expertise lies in social insurance and labour issues. Japan has a community of 45,000 Sharoushi, and an annual national examination is conducted to recruit new members to this profession. This examination has a notoriously low pass rate of around 5%, marking it as one of the most challenging exams in the country.

The introduction of the universal health coverage scheme in 1961 was a significant milestone in Japan’s social insurance history, with Sharoushi playing a crucial role in its application. Initially, the insurance’s reach was limited, and expanding coverage, especially in establishments with voluntary participation like employment insurance, was difficult. While coverage for compulsory employment injury insurance was expanded, the uptake for voluntary employment insurance lagged. This period also witnessed a rise in unqualified consultants representing companies in social insurance and labour issues, leading to an increase in malpractice.

The Sharoushi system was established in 1968 to address these challenges. Sharoushi were instrumental in broadening their client base, thereby aiding the effective implementation of the law and expanding social insurance coverage.

Japan, akin to Indonesia, has a high proportion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), accounting for 99.7% of all businesses. Given the logistical impracticality for Hello Work’s 30,000 employees to visit over three million SMEs, Sharoushi have been pivotal in bridging the gap, especially in managing social insurance and labour complexities. During periods of economic boom, many SMEs struggled with accurate payroll recording—a critical element for calculating social insurance contributions. Sharoushi facilitated this by managing payroll calculations and premium collections, enabling SMEs to participate in social insurance schemes.

Moreover, with 3,000 Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare employees qualified as labour standards inspectors, of whom approximately 2,200 are actively supervising labour standards, the task of monitoring over three million enterprises is daunting. Sharoushi complement this workforce by training companies in labour management, thereby preempting issues that could arise from labour standards inspections. They also play a vital role in public relations concerning social insurance and labour laws.

While solicitors and Sharoushi might seem to operate in similar spheres, they collaborate more than compete. Solicitors mediate in labour-management disputes, facilitating court processes when necessary, while Sharoushi focus on preventing disputes.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Federation of Labour and Social Security Attorney’s Associations have extended their support to Indonesia, aiming to establish a system akin to the Sharoushi. This has led to the creation of entities responsible for various insurances, which were later merged to form AGENALIS. Preparations are underway, under the auspices of the National Commission for the Accreditation of Vocational Qualifications, to establish a national qualification for Sharoushi in Indonesia.

Note: This article is based on a lecture by Mr Yoshihiko Ono from the Federation of Labour and Social Security Attorney’s Associations, delivered at a study workshop organised by the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower. The author bears responsibility for any typographical or factual errors.

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