Tozen organiser interviewed by scientific journal, Nature

In the article ‘I feel disposable’: Thousands of scientists’ jobs at risk in Japan, about universities terminating workers on fixed-term contracts, Tozen organiser Louis Carlet was interviewed and gave an explanation on how universities have responded to the 5/10-year rule.

Read the full article here

Bread & Roses: Do sex workers really have a choice?

On March 30, 2022, NHK Web News ran a story on how women driven to financial hardship due to the corona pandemic are increasingly turning to sex work.  (https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20220330/k10013558231000.html)  

The report notes that sex workers’ “growing presence in busy urban neighborhoods has spurred police to take enforcement action but also to assign case officers to provide support and to accompany the arrested women to life consultant centers run by local governments.” The cops have begun to provide support for the women’s futures from a social welfare perspective, rather than just cracking down.

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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

東ゼン大学ー職場の組織化 – Tozen Daigaku – How to organise your workplace.

Louis Carlet, Tony Dolan, and Orren Frankham present a Tozen Daigaku on how to safely organise your coworkers, what to be careful of, how to build up a union, and their own experiences in building unions.

Japanese Labour Union Act
Japanese Labour Relations Adjustment Act
Japanese Labour Standards Act

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).

Begunto returns to striking for the first time in 13 years!

From the Begunto Website:
On September 14th Begunto entered dispute after weeks of negotiations that went nowhere. On September 16th we had our first striking member. The purpose of the strike is to realize the Union’s demand that our member, Matthew Wiegand, be reinstated in his job. We aim to protect members against unfair dismissals.

A message from Tozen Union President, Okunuki Hifumi, (16 September 2021):

Today, 13 years after its founding and now part of Tozen Union, our local Begunto has begun a new fight – this time not for more money but rather to protect the job of one of our members.  At 7:40 pm this evening, our member Yancey walked off the job – on strike to push Berlitz management to reinstate our member Matt Wiegand.

Begunto (Berlitz General Union Tokyo)  has a history going back to 1994, the year of its founding (then part of NUGW Tokyo Nambu).  Over the next 27 years, Begunto has blazed a wide trail for language teachers in Japan, with enormous victories that changed the language school industry. In 2007, the  union launched an intense, twelve-month strike to raise wages across the board by 4.6%, something unheard of among any teacher unions, let alone one with mostly foreign teachers. Berlitz Japan made two offers, but Begunto rejected them as too little.  (See the wikipedia entry for this historic strike)

This fight is Tozen Union’s fight as much as Begunto’s fight. We will fight together to protect all our members’  job from reckless firings like this one.  We will update you on events that all Tozen members can join to help us win.

In solidarity,
Hifumi Okunuki
Tozen Union Executive President

五輪中止オンライン抗議アクション Anti-Olympics Live Stream Candlelit Protest

On Friday 30th July 2021, members of Tozen held a candle-lit online protest calling for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics.

 

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.

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: Worker Rights in the Age of Coronavirus

SNA (Tokyo) — Last Friday, the Covid-19 global pandemic passed the horrifying milestone of one million infections and 50,000 fatalities worldwide. There have, as of this writing, been 4,592 confirmed cases and 106 deaths in Japan. Graphs of new cases and deaths trace the left half of steep parabolas as the world’s nations fail to flatten the curve. The global catastrophe and its grim toll traps workers between the closing jaws of infection risk and dire economic straits. As US commentator Krystal Ball noted, “the working class has been shoved into the front lines of this crisis.”

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