NS Solutions case is latest battle in long war against sexual harassment

The first time a court in Japan ruled on the issue of sexual harassment was on Aug. 5, 1989. On that day, in what has become known as the Fukuoka Sexual Harassment Case, the Fukuoka District Court found the individual harasser and the employer responsible for damages.

 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOA) had been enacted three years earlier, but awareness of issues affecting women in the workplace was still low in Japan; they were considered “workplace flowers,” “seat warmers until marriage,” “male workers’ assistants” or even “unsold Christmas cakes.” The last epithet referred to those whose values as women were said to be plunging because they had not married by age 25 (with Christmas Day being Dec. 25 and all).

Read more

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?

Read more

The cost of convenience in Japan: when foreign students work instead of study

It’s midnight at the convenience store I often patronize near my home in Tokyo’s central Shinjuku district. The store’s open all day and night, 365 days a year.

There is one man I’ve seen quite a bit of lately — behind the counter, stocking shelves, carrying heavy boxes, cleaning, cooking food, ringing up purchases, barristering, giving out raffle tickets, and always using polite, respectful Japanese, from irasshaimase (welcome) to arigato gozaimasu (thank you very much).

Once, he ran down the street after my husband, who had just left the store. It wasn’t because this customer had shoplifted. God forbid. No, his addled brain had simply forgotten to collect the change (about ¥40), and this superclerk thought it right to leave his post and bolt down the street to hand it to him.

Read more

KYODO

Overtime deal marks total capitulation by labor

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.

Read more

KYODO

労働組合は「過労死」の増産に手を貸すのか? ~「残業上限月100時間」という狂気

レイバーペインズを読んでくださっている皆さんなら、日本の労働問題の最たるものが「長時間労働」、「過労死(自殺)」であることは重々承知だろう。にもかかわらず、ことあるごとに、労働法は時代遅れだとして、労働法の規制緩和をどんどん推し進めてきたのが他ならぬ現在の安倍政権なのだが、その安倍政権がなぜか去年から、残業時間の「上限」を法律で定めるべきだと主張し始めた。

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。

Read more

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.

Read more

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?

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more