Job-Juggling in Japan: A Risky Stunt with No Safety Net

Mid-April 2009. Tokyo.

Teaching English part-time at Berlitz Japan. Teaching English writing part-time at NHK Bilingual Center. Translating freelance for NHK. Translating part-time at the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Executive president of Berlitz General Union Tokyo (Begunto). Working part-time as a union organizer at the National Union of General Workers. Covering for a hospitalized full-time organizer at the same union. Working as an intern at Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (Ijuren) in the hope of getting hired there.

The above is a list of jobs, both paid and unpaid, that my activist friend Catherine Campbell worked simultaneously back in mid-April 2009. How could she possibly have held down so many jobs without collapsing under the pressure?

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Chris Beardshall (left), Louis Carlet and Adam Cleeve, members of the Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union, hold a news conference Thursday at the labor ministry after Beardshall and Cleeve filed a lawsuit against Shane Corporation Ltd. | DAISUKE KIKUCH

Teachers claim dismissals were invalid in suit against Shane English School

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

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Japanese need to take more leave, starting with when beloved pets pass

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.

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Tokyo court rulings chip away at labor unions’ right to free speech

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?

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Worrying times for job security in Japan

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.

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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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Shakai hoken shake-up will open up pensions for some but close door on benefits for others

June 6, 1980, was a Friday. The Social Insurance Agency quietly issued an untitled internal memo called a naikan regarding the eligibility of part-timers in Japan’s shakai hoken health and pension program. Who could have known what chaos, confusion and frustration that single-page document would cause in the coming decades? Let’s get our hands dirty and dig through the details.

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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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For Japan’s English teachers, rays of hope amid the race to the bottom

The major economic engines of Japan Inc. — car manufacturers, appliance giants and the like — have often been caught price-fixing: colluding to keep an even market share, squeeze competitors out and maintain “harmony.” Similarly, the commercial English-teaching business could be accused of wage-fixing: Rather than competing for talent, they have followed one another’s lead, driving down salaries to hamper career development, limit job mobility and keep foreign teachers firmly in their place.

We’ve all heard the tale of the scorpion and the frog. In a rising flood, the scorpion asks the frog for a piggy-back ride across the river. The frog refuses, complaining that the scorpion will sting it to death midway. The scorpion assures the frog it would do no such thing because they would both drown. The frog accepts the logic, lets the scorpion on its back and begins to swim.

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改めて考える・・・「労働者にとってのストライキ」〜ストライキにどこか「罪悪感」を感じているすべての人へ〜

今から11年前、日本のプロ野球は、日本プロ野球球団設立以来初めてのストライキを行った。当時最大規模の「球界再編」が行われようとしていたが、その決定のプロセスのなかに「選手」は入っていなかった。自分たちのことなのに、なぜ自分たちが外されているのか…? 我慢ができなかった選手たちは、当時の選手会会長である古田敦也(ふるた あつや)氏を中心に、何回も団体交渉を重ねたものの、交渉は決裂。そしてついに、開催予定だった6つの試合でストライキが決行された。

ストライキは2日に及んだが、この間、選手たちは自主練習をしたり、ファンとのふれあいのイベント(サイン会や写真撮影会)を開催したりしていた。彼らのストライキに対しては、ほとんどのファンがストライキを支持し応援していたものの、なかには「ファンをないがしろにしている」、「自分たちだけよければいいのか」といった非難もあった。選手たちはおそらくこうした声を重く受け止めていたのだろう。彼らは、ストライキが苦渋の果ての決断であったということ、そして、決してファンを軽視するものではなく、むしろファンにとってより楽しいプロ野球にするためにも、ストライキが不可避であるといったことを、一生懸命にアピールしていた。

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