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.

Read more

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.

Read more

‘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.

Read more

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.

Read more

‘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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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)

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more