Full disclosure: I am the president of Tozen Union. Last October we joined the Japanese Trade Union Federation, known as Rengo.
It is therefore with a heavy heart that this month I lambaste Rengo’s recent decision to agree to a policy I believe will endanger the health and lives of workers in Japan. Criticizing our own tribe is never easy and leaves a sour taste, but if we cannot criticize ourselves, we have no right to criticize others.
Those who read my column know well that one of Japan’s most dire labor problems is the practice of working from early morning until late at night. Long hours can and do kill.
このことは、政府がこれまでのバリバリの「規制緩和」から、「規制強化」路線へ180度方針転換したのか、とずいぶん騒がれたが、疑い深い私は、これには裏があるにちがいない、という気持ちが拭い去れなかった（このことは、2016年12月25日のLabor Painsでも述べている）。安倍首相は現在の財界トップである榊原定征（さかきばら さだゆき）経団連会長と親密な関係であり、自らの外遊にも連れていき、世界各国で日本企業を首相みずからが“トップセールス”するのだと自慢げに言っている。安倍首相が、自分の大切な「お友達」が多い経済界の締め付けを強めるようなことを本気でやるとはとても思えなかったのだ。
Two British language teachers who worked for Shane English School Japan filed suit Thursday against the school’s operator Shane Corporation Ltd., claiming that their dismissals were unfair and invalid.
Chris Beardshall, 46, and Adam Cleeve, 44, demanded that Shane pay their monthly salaries until the day of the case’s final judgment. The two were hired on fixed-term, one-year contracts, with annual renewals possible.
Beardshall said he joined Shane in 2003 and that he was dismissed as of Dec. 31, 2016, after refusing to sign a contract that included a drastic pay cut.“Shane decided to cut my salary by two-thirds … yet they know I have a wife and a child,” Beardshall said during a news conference held Thursday at the labor ministry
Expedia Japan recently released the results of an annual survey that corroborates the stereotype many folks have of the Japanese worker: In short, their work is endless and breaks are few and far between.
The travel company site surveyed 9,424 adults from 28 countries about paid holidays. You can see the full results here: bit.ly/yasumiheta.
But let’s back up a bit first. The Abe government has tried desperately to drive home policies to reform how we work, with the aim of offering an escape from the “worker bee” mode of labor. However, in the survey, Japan ranks dead last when it comes to the percentage of paid leave taken, at just 50 percent. So on average, Japanese workers take only half their allotted paid holidays.
Japan clinched the worst record on paid holidays by undercutting South Korea, which held the dubious title in 2014 and 2015, by just three points. In five countries or territories, workers took an average of all their paid holidays: Australia, Brazil, France (of course), Spain and Hong Kong, although the latter guarantees only 15 days by law, so it’s not as shining an example as the others.
The Tokyo District Court handed down its verdict in the Fujibi case last February, with the Tokyo High Court upholding it in July. On both occasions, I couldn’t believe my ears. The courts ruled that labor union Zenrokyo Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo Rodo Kumiai (Tokyo Roso) had committed defamation and damaged the creditworthiness of Fujibi, a medium-size artwork printing company.
Articles 1.2 and 8 of Trade Union Law explicitly exempt labor unions from civil and criminal liability when conducting legitimate labor union activities. This has been broadly interpreted thus far to give unions extraordinary leeway to dish out harsh criticism of their employers, whereas normally such public criticism would constitute illegal (possibly criminal) defamation (meiyo kison) or obstruction of business (gyōmu bōgai). Consumer boycotts are illegal (possibly criminal), whereas strikes by workers are protected by the Constitution, even if they hurt the business.
So these courts ruled that Tokyo Roso’s actions were not legitimate union activities. What were the actions and what led to these verdicts?
The year 2016 was no walk in the park for workers nationwide. At one extreme, we have Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old worker who felt she had no other choice but to take her life as a result of overwork.
In October, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare released its first ever white paper on karōshi (death from overwork). The fact that the ministry can publish such a paper is a chilling reminder of the cruelty of the country’s workplace environment.
I have discussed the “five-year rule” several times before in this column — the revision of the Labor Contract Law (Rodo Keiyaku Ho) enacted in 2013. Under the amendment, any worker employed on serial fixed-term contracts (yūki koyō) for more than five years can give themselves permanent status. See my earlier stories for more details, particularly my March 2013 column, “Labor law reform raises rather than relieves workers’ worries”
The amendment was supposed to give workers more job security. Or at least that is what lawmakers claimed the purpose was. From the start I had my doubts — doubts that are now being borne out.
A 24-year-old pressured to work long, hard hours beyond what she could tolerate at the largest advertising agency in Japan jumped from her third-floor dorm room on Christmas Day of last year.
This story went viral, and labor researchers around the country mumbled to themselves, “Dentsu again?”
Dentsu is an ad giant notorious for brutal work hours and its merciless management style. Any labor law textbook worth its salt that covers karōshi (death by overwork) will also introduce the Supreme Court’s famous Dentsu death-by-overwork case. In August 1991 a man, also 24, hanged himself at his home. In 2000, Japan’s highest court ruled that the “suicide was caused by horrendous working conditions.” Eventually Dentsu and the surviving family agreed on a settlement of ¥168 million.