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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Venerable site: Students taking part in an anti-war rally file out through the gates of Tohoku University in Sendai in 1950. The storied university recently revealed that it plans not to renew the fixed-term contracts of up to 3,200 employees, thereby ensuring that they will not be able to become regular staff according to a recent revision to the Labor Contract Law. | KYODO

‘Five-year rule’ triggers ‘Tohoku college massacre’ of jobs

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.

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Time to consign ‘death by overwork’ to Japan’s history

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.

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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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Pop quiz: Which of these types of government worker has the right to strike — tax inspectors, schoolteachers, firefighters or public health workers? Answer: None of the above, thanks to an Occupation-era law designed to tamp down the influence of communism. | KYODO

The flip side of coveted public-sector jobs in Japan: fewer rights

I research labor law and teach it to university students. In the first class, I break up the two groups of labor laws — those related to individual and collective labor relations — for my students. Individual labor relations law begins and ends with the 1947 Labor Standards Act (rōdō kijun hō); its collective counterpart is surely the 1950 Trade Union Act (rōdō kumiai hō).

About 99.9 percent of my 18-20-year-olds look blank the first time they hear the word “rōdō kumiai,” or labor union. Some of them have arubaito (part-time jobs) and thus already have become rōdōsha (workers) protected by labor laws, but they have not heard of labor unions and have no idea what such a creature looks like. I have my work cut out trying to explain to them the concepts of labor unions, collective bargaining and striking.

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SKYPICSSTUDIO | ISTOCK

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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