Sagamihara massacre begs question: Do we want a society that only values usefulness?

Let me apologize up front for tackling an issue that is not purely about labor per se.

The brutal mass murder in July in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, made me feel that our society must address a simple yet difficult question: What does work mean to human beings? I feel that I must candidly convey to you, dear readers, what this tragedy says to me, and then ask you for your opinions.

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ちゃんととろう、有給休暇

年次有給休暇(以下、有休)。それは労働者にとって、「完全なる労働からの解放日」である。心身共に健康に、長く安定して働くためにも、きちんと休暇をとる権利を休むことはとても大切なことだ。しかしながら、有給休暇をとるために不必要に高いハードルを設定したり、チクチクと嫌みをいって、休暇をとることをためらわせたりする職場も、残念ながら存在する。

とくに、学校の先生やスクールの講師など、「お客様=生徒」である場合にそうした傾向が多いようだ。つまり、「お前は生徒のことよりも、自分の休みを優先させるのか?!」といった、自己犠牲を強いるような空気である。先生が充分に休暇をとれないで自己犠牲的に働いたとしても、決して良い授業などできないのに…。

ということで、今回は、「労働者がきちんと夏のバケーションを楽しむことができる」ために、有給休暇の制度について、改めて振り返っておこう。ここからは、よく相談を受ける質問に答える形で進めていく。

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A week’s worth of questions about paid leave

Paid leave. The long form in Japanese is nenji yūkyū kyūka; the short form is yūkyū. For workers, yūkyū is a day of “complete liberation from toil,” as one scholar put it.

The right to rest fully is vital in ensuring that workers enjoy long, healthy and anxiety-free lives. Unfortunately, some employers do all they can to discourage their employees from actually taking paid leave, setting up artificial obstacles, insinuating they are lazy and using peer pressure to keep them at their work stations.

I myself teach at a university, and many of my members at Tozen Union are also teachers. I find that teachers in particular find it very difficult to freely take paid leave, and many more are unaware of the government’s guarantee of paid leave. Foreign teachers in particular may be unfamiliar with the law.

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‘Same work, same pay’ goal may spark a race to the bottom

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently come out to make the case for “same work, same pay.” Call me a cynic, but I suspect an ulterior motive. For years, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s policies have focused on helping prop up struggling corporations and their managers, with working people treated as more of a nuisance. It is therefore hard to believe that the LDP has suddenly grown a heart that aches over the travails of millions of unemployed, underemployed, underpaid, unpaid and otherwise un-somethinged workers.

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Do Japan’s porn actresses and actors have labor rights?

On May 4, a tiny cafe in Tokyo’s Koenji neighborhood was transformed into an informal meeting hall. Porn-film kingpins (and a “queenpin”) had called an “emergency meeting” to respond to a recently released report by Human Rights Now (HRN).

On March 3, the international NGO, which is based in Tokyo and has U.N. special consultative status, reported the results of an in-depth investigation into the pornography business in Japan. The report concluded that the industry had violated the human rights of women and girls through means such as blackmail, virtual enslavement and seeking illegal breach-of-contract damages from women who try to back out of films after being persuaded or duped into acting in them.

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‘Landmark’ ruling sent Japan’s foreign residents back to welfare limbo

This month’s Labor Pains is not really about a labor issue per se. The life of a worker is more than work. We don’t toil from cradle to grave.

There are times when we cannot work due to sickness or injury, although in Japan, many force themselves to labor through both, as indeed my translator and editor happen to be doing at this very moment. Unhealthy devotion to work is a serious problem in our society, so I’m a bit of a hypocrite to ask them for their help despite their painful injuries.

There are also times when we cannot find work despite being able-bodied. Today, I’d like to talk about the system in place to protect you when all other safety nets fail. I want to discuss the difference in the rights foreign and Japanese citizens have when it comes to seikatsu hogo, or welfare. I want to dispel the profound misunderstandings surrounding the 2014 Supreme Court verdict about the right foreign residents have — or don’t have — to welfare.

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Graduates needn’t be hostages to advance contracts

The seniors I teach at Sagami Women’s University have already handed in their final dissertations and now await graduation in March. You can feel that a heavy burden has been lifted from their shoulders: “My friends and I are going to Fiji for our graduation trip”; “I’ve already reserved the traditional gown I’m going to wear to the graduation ceremony.”

In April they will go out into the world as shakaijin, or full-fledged adult members of society. As I’ve mentioned before, graduation and finding employment are seen as a single event in Japan. Students at university weigh up their strengths and interests, research the industry they aspire to join, perhaps do an internship, and then apply and interview for jobs. This whole process is called shūkatsu.
If an employer says they want you to start next April, then that is effectively an official promise of employment, or naitei. In a previous column, I explained that the employer is, in a sense, legally bound by the naitei, but today I would like to discuss the obligations of the prospective employee.
All of my current students have already received their naitei from assumed future employers. Many companies insist that students affix their personal seal to a written pledge to work for them.

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残業ヤダ!って言ったらクビ?!

昔から今に至るまで、テレビドラマにはいろいろな「お決まりのシーン」がある。たとえば、朝、慌てて家を飛び出すヒロイン、通りすがりの男性に思いっきりぶつかり「あ、ごめんなさい~」と顔を赤らめながら立ち去ったときに、うっかりアクセサリーを落としてしまう。そして数日後、たまたま入ったカフェ。向かい側に座っているのは・・・あ、あのときの・・・そして、ロマンスが始まる、というパターン。(注:ここで落とすのはアクセサリーに限らず、財布や定期券などもポピュラー)

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Japan’s culture and courts need to get with the program on overtime

TV series have for decades now overused a broad range of formulaic plot devices. Let me give you an example:
The heroine scrambles to get out of the house in the morning on her way to work. She runs down the street only to collide with a man walking the other way. Blushing, she showers him with apologies and in all the kerfuffle, a piece of jewelry slips off to the ground unnoticed. Days later she runs into him (figuratively this time) in a chic cafe, and romance brews. For variety, replace jewelry with wallet, train pass or other item; stir and bake.

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