Ruling coalition, Komeito propose 23 bil. yen settlement for JR dispute

The three ruling parties and an opposition party on Thursday presented the government with a proposal for a 23 billion yen settlement package to resolve a 23-year-old dispute over Japan Railway companies’ refusal to hire unionized workers following the 1987 privatization of the state-run Japanese National Railways, party members said.

Receiving the proposal, which also asks JR companies to hire some 200 former JNR workers, transport minister Seiji Maehara said the sum, smaller than an originally proposed 28.7 billion yen, is a “realistic figure,” showing willingness to accept it.

The minister added that he has “heard some of the JR companies are planning to hire workers at their affiliated entities,” while Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters, “As many people have suffered for 23 years, we, the government, will have to seriously study the proposal.”

The privatization led the newly created companies to refuse to hire 1,047 workers, many of whom were members of the National Railway Workers Union, known as Kokuro.

The compromise deal will urge Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, an organization that inherited debts from JNR, to pay some 23 billion yen as settlement money to former JNR workers.

Shinji Takahashi, Kokuro chief, said the proposal is acceptable and that he expects it to lead to the settlement of the decades-old dispute.

The three ruling parties and the New Komeito party had originally put the total figure at some 28.7 billion yen, which includes 1.8 billion yen to companies set up by those who were denied employment in the privatization, but trimmed the amount to keep it in line with the court’s past assessment of damages.

In December 2003, the Supreme Court rejected a call by the Central Labor Relations Commission, the government’s top labor mediation body, for the dismissed workers to be rehired.

It ruled that under the law, the Japan Railway companies created as a result of the privatization could not be held responsible for the improper labor practices of JNR.

The ruling coalition parties held a meeting with the government in January this year and agreed that the dispute should be resolved by March in consideration of the age of the dismissed workers.

According to Kokuro, the average age of the dismissed workers is now over 56, and 60 of them have already died.