Bread & Roses: Tragedy and Prison for a Pregnant Foreign Intern

In August 2018 at the age of 19, Le Thi Thuy Linh arrived in Japan to work as a jisshusei intern. Each day, she handled agricultural wastewater at a tangerine orchard in Kumamoto Prefecture. Japan’s rapidly ageing population has created a dearth of agricultural workers, forcing farmers to turn to young foreign interns like Linh to maintain their farms.

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東ゼン大学 – 産休とマタハラ Tozen Daigaku: Maternity Leave and Harassment

弁護士加藤佳子東ゼン労組執行委員長奥貫妃文は産後産前休暇とマタハラパタハラを講義する。

Attorney Kato Keiko and Tozen President Hifumi Okunuki teach us about the law and legal cases around maternity leave, and maternity and paternity harassment.

Bread & Roses: Remote Jobs Upend Work-Life Balance

SNA (Tokyo) — Remote work is no longer a remote concept. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen telework, work-from-home, and workations soar in the popular imagination, and indeed become a reality in many lives. The very meaning of work is undergoing a tectonic transformation before our eyes. So let’s look at telework’s oft-missed underbelly.

Top of any list of terrible Japanese work customs must come long work hours and unpaid overtime.

Below those come mad morning and evening rush hours with train cars packed up to 200% capacity with straphanging workers–sushi-zume (“sushi in a bento box”) or, as anglophones say, “packed like sardines.” The brutality of commutes in urban Japan have inspired commentators to commonly make a pun on the word tsukin (commuting) by replacing it with the phonetically identical, but spelled in kanji differently word tsukin (pain). Most of us have come to resign ourselves to the reality that rush-hour nightmares will never end, and we just have to suck it up.

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東ゼン一日行動ビデオ Tozen All Day Protest Videos

東ゼン一日行動(上)
神田にあるシェーン英会話本社前で抗議行動を始めした。
The first part of Tozen’s All Day Protest.
Starting with the Shane Worker’s Union protesting at Shane English School Head Office in Kanda, Tokyo.

東ゼン一日行動(中)
神田にある神田外語大学院前で抗議行動を始めした。

The second part of Tozen’s All Day Protest.
Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS) Union protesting at Kanda University of International Studies in Kanda, Tokyo.

東ゼン一日行動(下)
銀座にあるインタラック本社前で抗議行動を始めした。

The third part of Tozen’s All Day Protest,
Interac Union protesting at Interac HQ in Ginza

Bread & Roses: Pandemic Drives Women into “Nighttime Work”

On November 16, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced the disciplinary dismissal of a 28-year-old school nurse for moonlighting as a sex worker for more than a year. 

Tokyo officials interrogated her after receiving an anonymous tip about her after-hours work. The primary and middle school nurse said she wanted to save enough money to live on her own in the city. The officials used the word menshoku (removal/dismissal from office) rather than kaiko (dismissal from employment) since she was a local government civil servant. 

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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).

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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フィリピン人家事労働者が抱えている労働問題が記事になりました。 TOZEN mentioned in article about Filipino domestic workers.

Tozen, and our President Okunuki Hifumi, have been mentioned in the following article by Mieko Takenobu about the difficulties that Filipino domestic workers have.

竹信三恵子氏のフィリピン人家事労働者が抱える問題についての記事の中で、東ゼン労組と執行委員長の奥貫妃文についても触れていただきました。

所持金1000円の外国人家政婦たち〜国家戦略特区「家事支援人材制度」の歪み /竹信三恵子

Bread & Roses: Needless Death of a Sri Lankan Detainee

 

SNA (Tokyo) — “Japan is safer than other countries; the Japanese are kind; the streets are clean; and it’s easy to live here.” I hear foreigners say these things. But I also hear it from Japanese who have never lived abroad. The mainstream media’s Nippon Sugoi! campaign is working, perhaps, but it’s not far off from the nation’s general reputation. But read on: The current reality may blow your image of my country to smithereens. Can such a thing be happening in Japan in 2021?

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Bread & Roses: Osaka Court Overturns Welfare Cut

SNA (Tokyo) — A Japanese court overturned a welfare reduction for the first time ever on February 22, 2021. The Osaka District Court ruled against the government’s 2013 public assistance reduction of ¥67 billion (US$632 million), marking the first court win for the Inochi no Toride litigation campaign, involving more than 1,000 plaintiffs in 29 prefectures around Japan.

Attorney Tetsuro Kokubo, deputy head of the defense team, said, “This is the first time in my long career as a lawyer that I cried when I heard the verdict.” The comment poignantly conveys the challenges of fighting state power.

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