23-yr dispute over JR’s refusal to hire union workers to be settled

Representatives of union workers decided Friday to accept a proposal in which the government would pay each worker roughly 22 million yen, bringing to an end a 23-year-old dispute over the refusal of Japan Railway companies to hire them.

The ruling parties and the opposition New Komeito party presented the roughly 20 billion yen settlement package, which was worked out with the government on Thursday, to a union and other related bodies on Friday morning, and the union side confirmed its acceptance in the afternoon.

The four parties had proposed asking the JR companies to hire some 200 former workers of the state-run Japanese National Railways, which was privatized and divided into the companies in 1987.

But given the reluctance of JR companies to hire the former workers, the government said in its settlement proposal that it cannot guarantee employment for every former worker because it cannot force the companies to hire them.

The four parties’ suggestion that subsidies be paid to some of the JR companies if they agree to hire the former workers did not make it into the proposal.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama “approved the outline” of the proposal, transport minister Seiji Maehara told reporters after briefing the prime minister on it in the afternoon.

Maehara is expected to announce the government’s acceptance of the deal shortly.

Under the proposal, Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, an organization that inherited debts from JNR, would pay roughly 22 million yen per worker to 910 households involved in the litigation. The households consist of plaintiffs and surviving family members.

The plaintiffs are among the 1,047 workers that JNR’s successor companies refused to hire upon JNR’s privatization, many of them members of the National Railway Workers Union, known as Kokuro.

The settlement money would be paid if the plaintiffs drop their cases.

Of the 20 billion yen to be paid to the former workers, roughly 14.2 billion yen would go toward paying for the damages awarded in a ruling in March 2009 and litigation fees, and about 5.8 billion yen for Kokuro and other related bodies to help the former workers find jobs.

Last month, the Democratic Party of Japan and its two coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party, as well as New Komeito had proposed to the government a settlement package that would pay about 24 million yen per worker.

The government then presented the parties with a plan to pay roughly 20 million yen per worker, after considering the amounts of compensation paid in previous liability cases in which the state was involved. The amount was later raised to 22 million yen per worker after negotiations between them.