‘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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Lessons in Japan’s labor laws from striking NPB baseball stars and English teachers

Eleven years ago, baseball players walked off the field in protest for the first time in the seven-decade professional history of the game in Japan.

Owners wanted to consolidate two of the dozen pro teams, without offering a replacement. Players opposed the merger and were outraged that they had been kept out of the decision-making process. Atsuya Furuta of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows led collective bargaining on behalf of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association union. Talks broke down and players struck six scheduled games over two days.

Players reached out to their fans with signing and photo events. Most fans sided with the striking players, but a vocal minority accused them of selfishness and having insulted their fans.

It always strikes me as odd how striking workers — rather than stubborn bosses — are often the ones accused of greed. The players did not take the decision to strike lightly; they had agonized over the decision and certainly were not taking their fans for granted. They made impassioned appeals to the fans that a strike was the only way they could save the wonderful spirit of the game.

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KYODO

In Japan, adultery can cost you your job as well as your marriage

Fūkibinran. Now that is a Japanese expression you don’t see around much these days. I bet many young Japanese readers don’t even know how to read the four kanji that make up this word: 風紀紊乱.

It means something akin to “an affront to public morality,” “a breakdown in customary discipline” or, perhaps, “compromising love relations.” But there are simpler and more direct ways to render this expression in English — how about “adultery,” “cheating” or “having multiple partners”?

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Legal change will make temp purgatory permanent for many Japanese workers

Eight years ago, a TV drama about temporary workers generated a great deal of excitement around Japan. In “Haken no Hinkaku” (“Dignity of a Temp”), model-actress-singer Ryoko Shinohara played Haruko Omae, a “super-temp” who masterfully tackled the myriad troubles that arose in her ¥3,000-an-hour job. Unshakable, aloof and playing by her own rules, she performed better than any of the regular employees, refused all overtime and off-the-clock socialization, and shunned flattery and fake smiles to boot.

Unfortunately, the drama did not reflect reality. In real life, critics said, such a temp worker (haken shain) would have been fired on the spot, and regardless of skill level, temp workers tend to be seen as outsiders and are treated worse than regular workers.

On Wednesday, recent revisions to the Worker Dispatch Law go into effect. There was chaotic debate in the Diet over this bill, just as there was with the security bills, but in the end the ruling coalition dealt with it in the same way as it has other unpopular measures: by pushing it through with their majority in both chambers.

Let’s look at the details of the changes.

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「戦争法案ゼッタイ反対!」とデモをする学生たちは就職できない?

2015年夏。戦後70年を迎えた日本。この節目の年に、安倍晋三総理大臣を中止とする政権与党は、現行憲法下で「集団的自衛権」の行使は可能と、従来の解釈を180度変更し、また、安保法案を与党の賛成多数で成立させた。

このような政府の武力行使への積極姿勢に対して多くのNOの声が巻き起こった。その声はやがて学生たちの自発的な行動につながっていった。なかでも大きなムーブメントを巻き起こしているのは「SEALDs」(シールズ:Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy – s)という団体である。「自由と平和と民主主義」を守るというモットーのもと、現在の日本政府の軍事化に反対を表明するために、全国各地の大学生たちを中心に結成された団体だ。

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Should SEALDs student activists worry about not getting hired?

Summer 2015 — 70 years since Japan’s defeat in World War II. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling coalition have rammed two security bills through the Lower House that overturn decades of interpretation of the Constitution by enabling Japan to engage in collective self-defense. Now he hopes to do the same in the Upper House.

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Three amigos on a mission to protect your rights

The only people who tend to know what I’m talking about when I say the words “labor relations commission” are unionists, labor or corporate lawyers and labor-law scholars. These panels are government enforcement bodies that lack the glamour and fame of the courts, the cops and even the Labor Standards Office, and sound about as dull as dish water. This is a shame, because in actual fact, they do some amazing work. Let me explain.

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