Bread & Roses: Are Actors “Laborers”?

SNA (Tokyo) — Suit-clad office workers, long-haul truck drivers, ramen shop food preparers, fake priests at faux churches, insurance solicitors, rice paddy farmers, maid cafe servers, security guards, nurses, train conductors, schoolteachers, nursery school caregivers, bank tellers, garbage collectors, plumbers, paralegals, social workers… How many megabytes would it take to list all jobs that occupy the days of the workers who make our society run?

Riddle me this: What job permits you, during a single lifetime, to experience any job on the planet?

Give up? Acting. An actor on stage or screen can do any job that exists and even any job that does not exist. On stage and for a limited time only, before the final curtain, you can become a queen or a serial killer.

The Japanese word rodosha is often translated as “laborer,” but the word “worker” better reflects the ubiquity of its usage. For labor law, however, the word rodosha should on most occasions be translated as “employee,” since it delineates a relationship with management, rather than one’s position in society.

In this piece, I will use rodosha, meaning “employee protected by the various labor laws in Japan.”

Is a stage actor a rodosha? Does she enjoy all protections accorded to a rodosha under labor law?

A recent court case may provide the answer.

Defendant Air Studio Company produces stage plays, films, studio management, handles celebrities, and runs restaurants. The theater troupe Air Studio stages performances nearly each week.

The plaintiff signed a contract and joined the troupe at age 22, dreaming of becoming an actor. In addition to performing on stage, the plaintiff also worked on sets, props, sound, lights, and other tech crew duties–all unpaid. After four years, the firm began paying him a ¥60,000 (US$540) “support stipend” each month. He devoted himself to acting and backstage work without a break, clocking up to twelve hours a day, with no time to eat properly. He fell into financial hardship. At the end of his rope and no future in sight, he left the troupe in 2016.

Then, he sued the company for back wages for his performances and tech crew work. The question arises: was he an employee? Was his work rodo, deserving of wages as stipulated in the Labor Standards Act?

On September 4, 2019, Tokyo District Court ruled that his backstage activities were indeed rodo and in engaging in those activities, he was indeed a rodosha, protected by labor laws. But the court did not recognize his acting on stage as the work of an employee of the company.

Both sides appealed the split verdict to the Tokyo High Court. The plaintiff insisted that his acting too was labor protected by labor law, while the defendant claimed that none of his various duties could be characterized as wage labor performed by an employee (rodosha).

Almost a year later, on September 3, 2020, the High Court ruled in favor of the actor, recognizing all the work, including performing on stage, as labor subject to wage regulations.

The lower court had said that acting on stage was an optional part of his job and that he was free to accept or refuse. Freedom to accept or refuse is a key principle that determines rodosha status in Japanese courts.

The appellate court agreed that the actor could refuse to act on stage with no apparent disadvantageous repercussions, but noted that “one joins a theater troupe in order to act on stage, making refusal inconceivable under normal circumstances. The troupe members prioritized completing the tasks received from the defendant and had no realistic option other than to comply with orders. Thus, they cannot be said to have had the right to accept or refuse.”

The Tokyo High Court concluded that the job fit the definition of a rodosha in Article 9 of the Labor Standards Act and ordered the defendant to pay unpaid wages of ¥1.85 million (US$16,670).

This verdict sent shock waves through the Japanese theater industry, where unpaid apprenticeships have always been the norm. Ripples had spread throughout the industry even with the lower court’s ruling that backstage work was… well… work. But the judge’s ruling that even acting on stage was subject to wage regulations terrified the industry.

We labor law academics have always considered anyone who must follow orders–regardless of the name of the job–as rodosha, but indignant business representatives asked if the court is trying to destroy the Japanese theater industry, and predicted the extinction of all theater troupes, other than giants such as Shiki Theater Company.

It’s fair to say that those pursuing an acting career often struggle with no money but abundant aspiration. Masato Sakai often speaks on television about how he dropped out of college to found his own theater troupe, only to have to string together part-time jobs for a decade as this theater attracted no audiences. He laughs while recounting how he resorted to eating wild dandelions when he was flat broke.

He is not alone–many successful actors share similar experiences.

Many might feel some resistance to this verdict, since this is a world actors choose willingly to dive into. Why should they be counted as an ordinary rodosha? If they are rodosha, then they are entitled to job security and cannot be fired without a darn, good reason.

Yet, actors usually must audition to get parts in a world of cutthroat competition with few cast.

I understand this sentiment for what it’s worth. At the same time, I oppose settling for some sort of extraterritoriality that deprives actors of all labor law protections. While considering the special nature of the work of an actor, we must also ensure an environment that enables them to live lives befitting of human beings.

 

This article was written by Hifumi Okunuki, and originally published by the Shingetsu News Agency (SNA).

東京外国語大学、フランス語教師の不当解雇訴訟第1回期日

東ゼン労組ならびに東ゼン大学教職員組合の組合員であるジェローム・ルボワ(以下、「ルボワ組合員」という)が、不当解雇の撤回を求めて東京外国語大学を訴えた裁判の第1回期日が9月30に日に行われた。

ルボワ組合員は、2010年7月21日から東京外国語大学でフランス語教師として勤務し始めたが、今年の3月31日に解雇された。
組合側は、大学側が主張する解雇理由を争っており、何度も団体交渉において協議を重ねたが、大学側は解雇撤回をしない姿勢を貫いたため訴訟に至った。
9月22日には、大学前でルボア組合員の解雇撤回を求めるビラ配りを行った。このビラ配り活動には、東京外国語大学の学生組合である「ルボワ先生の外大復職を求める会」も参加し、同日,組合と学生の共同声明を発表した。


東ゼン労組とルボワ先生の外大復職を求める会(学生組合)の共同声明

ルボワ組合員は、学生たちからも人気のある教員であり、下記のような声を学生たちから受けている。

– 語学が苦手な僕にとって、ルボワ先生の分かりやすく面白い授業は、常に学習の励みでした。今では、フランス語の読解が必要な研究にも取り組むほどです。多くの生徒の学習意欲を向上させるには、先生のユーモアに富んだ授業が不可欠であるはずです!

– ルボワ先生は、非常に学生思いの先生です。また、ルボワ先生の授業のおかげでフランス語を楽しみながら身につけることができました。ルボワ先生の授業が恋しいです…!

– 日本語が巧みな先生のフランス語指導は、どの教授よりもわかりやすかったです!

– ルボア先生のフランス文化社会学の授業や、フランスの歴史の授業が大好きでした。
フランスの話だけではなく、日仏比較を交えた講義は日本史を専門としていらっしゃるルボア先生ならではのもので、いまでは受講なくなってしまいとても悲しいです。

– ルボア先生の語学、そしてフランス社会や歴史の授業が全て大好きで、毎回とても楽しみにしていました。コロナ禍でオンライン授業になっても、前と同じように板書や説明を丁寧にしてくださったので、問題なく楽しく授業に参加できました。外大生がルボア先生の授業をまた受けられるようになることを、心から願っています。

東ゼン労組とルボワ先生の外大復職を求める会は、東京外国語大学に対し、一日も早くルボワ組合員の解雇撤回するよう求め、今後も闘う姿勢を示したい。

La justice japonaise donne raison à un représentant du Tozen contre le Lycée Français de Tokyo – Tozen leader wins wage case against French lycée in Tokyo

(English below the French)

Le 27 septembre, un tribunal spécial du travail (rodo shimpan) a ordonné au Lycée Français international de Tokyo de verser le montant les heures supplémentaires non payées à Amjid Alam, président de l’Union des Personnels du Lycée Français international de Tokyo (UPL) de Tozen Union.

L’école française a deux semaines pour faire appel de la décision auprès du tribunal du district de Tokyo.

Notre correspondant juridique Tozen News a rencontré Alam dans le hall du bâtiment du tribunal, juste après la victoire.

“Ma demande était justifiée. La loi japonaise doit être respectée. Je ne dirais pas que c’est une victoire, car tout ce que cela signifie, c’est que l’école doit respecter le droit du travail local. C’est quelque chose qui aurait dû être fait dès le début”.

(Nous mettrons cette page à jour si la direction décide de faire appel).

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置いてけぼりの夏の真ん中 ー2021盛夏、コロナとオリンピックの渦のなかでー Midsummer 2021 – Left to be sucked into the corona-Olympic vortex

奥貫妃文の詩。
A poem by Hifumi Okunuki.
(English is below the Japanese.)

いまは、いったいいつなんだろう。
ここは、いったいどこなんだろう。

東京都新宿区、奥神楽坂の我が家から歩いて3分。
中国人のジャンさんが営む中華料理レストランがあった。
私と夫は頻繁に通っては、裏メニュー「黒酢きゅうり」を頼んでいた。
2021年8月の現在、その店は、もうない。
夜遅くまで客足が絶えず、楽し気な声で満ちていた店は、真っ暗なまま。
がらんどうになった店の入口は、落ち葉の吹き溜まりになっている。
壁には「テナント募集」の張り紙。それもすっかり色褪せ、
今にもはがれそうにカサカサ、カサカサ、と音を立てている。
新しい賃借人が入るのは、いつのことになるだろうか。

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Union-Busting Case Begins Against Tokyo West Int. School. 東京ウエストインターナショナルスクール、不当労働行為調査が開始

 Tokyo Labor Relations Commission began hearings on Monday, May 24 against Tokyo West International School. On April 1, 2021, Tozen Union and its local TWIST had filed a petition claiming that the school targeted the union in an attempt to weaken or destroy it, including unfair dismissals of three union teachers. 

   Union members expressed excitement to get the proceedings under way but were bewildered at claims made in the school’s defense brief that they had never before heard.


 2021年5月24日(月)、東京都労働委員会において、東京ウエストインターナショナルスクールを相手にした不当労働行為の第1回調査期日が行われた。2021年4月1日、東ゼン労組と東京ウエストインターナショナルスクール東ゼン(略称「TWIST」)は、同学校による3名の組合員講師に対する不当解雇を含めて、組合員を狙って組合を弱体化しようとしたという主張を理由に不当労働行為の救済を申し立てた。

 組合員らは調査開始に対して喜びを見せたが、学校側から届いた大量の証拠資料の中には、これまで耳にしたことのない主張が含まれていたことに驚いた。

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Un membre du syndicat Tozen poursuit le Lycée Français International de Tokyo. 東ゼン労組合員が東京国際フランス学園を訴える。

Tozen Union member sues French School in Tokyo.

(日本語は下記)

(Scroll down for English)

 

Le 9 mai 2021, Amjid Alam, membre du syndicat Tozen, a engagé des poursuites contre le Lycée Français International de Tokyo, une école gérée par l’AEFE, au motif de non paiement de salaire d’environ 1 million de yens.

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Labor Board Orders Oberlin U to Talk to Union

Wednesday, May 26, the Tokyo Labor Relations Commission ordered Oberlin University to hold collective bargaining with Tozen Union. Oberlin University had refused negotiations since October 2019, demanding the union exclude rank and file members.   The university had also insisted on bargaining in Japanese even though the day to day language of labor relations at the workplace is English.

The union demanded collective bargaining after Oberlin University announced it would outsource classes to a private contractor, threatening the job and income security of our members. Oberlin claimed the outsourcing was not a legitimate topic for union negotiations, a claim firmly rejected by the commission.

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Tozen Union Opposes the Tokyo Olympics

As a labour union we fight for workers’ rights, and worker safety. And the Tokyo Olympics has had numerous counts of worker deaths and injuries, and workers have reported a “culture of fear” that discouraged them from making complaints about working conditions.

Another major reason that we do not support the Olympics is that the world is currently in the midst of a global pandemic. Corona cases in Japan have been constantly rising and dropping, and with no large-scale vaccination in sight, going ahead with the olympics would be an unnecessary risk to all.

Other reasons that we oppose the Tokyo Olympics are:

  • Financial costs
  • Loss of homes
  • Reports of corruption and bribery
  • The militarisation of the police
  • Unsafe temperatures.