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.
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.
Today, let’s take a look at three shiny new news items from the gossip columns that take on a different sheen when examined under the piercing light of labor law. These human-interest stories have a common theme, which I’ll address later. But first, the stories:
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.
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.
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.
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。
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”?
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.