Chinese trainees in Japan win court battle for back pay
Four people, including Chinese trainees aged 22-25, won a court battle demanding that two companies pay them unpaid wages in back pay as well as consolation money. They joined the Local Union in Kumamoto Prefecture affiliated with the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) and brought the case to court in 2007. The two companies in Amakusa City, Kumamoto Prefecture, were subcontractors of Wacoal, Japan's major women's underwear maker, but both went out of business.
The Kumamoto District Court gave the four total victory on January 29, when it ordered the two companies and a body in charge of accepting the trainees to pay them 17,300,000 yen (about 182,000 US dollars) in compensation. This is the first ruling to hold the body accepting foreign trainees responsible for a company's wrongdoing. In this case, the body by the name of the gPlus Apparel Cooperative Union,h established jointly by clothing makers and the operator of an office in charge of accepting foreign trainees, was ordered to pay compensation. The court dismissed plaintiffs' charge against the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), the provider of training programs for foreigners.
The four trainees are from China's Shandong Province. After arriving in Japan in April and July 2006, they were forced to work 13 hours a day and were allowed to take only a day off a month. They were paid less than the amount of the minimum wage. The court said that the four were forced to work as employees instead of being treated as trainees. It also accused the companies for forcing the trainees to work overtime in disregard of the ban for the first year of foreign trainees and ordered them to pay 12,900,000 yen (or about 130,000 US dollars) in unpaid wages, including overtime pay by applying the local minimum wage, as well as 4,400,000 yen (or 52,000 US dollars) in consolation money. The court also said that the companies were holding the four trainees' bankbooks and seals in violation of the Labor Standards Law that prohibits employers from forcing employees to deposit money. The court also said the companies took the trainees' passports on the grounds that it was necessary to do so in order to prevent them from running away. This act amounts to encouraging the use of illegal working conditions.
Attending a Zenroren National Convention as a delegate from the Kumamoto Prefectural Federation of Trade Unions, Gu Meijuan said, gI could not stop the tears of joy. We must make efforts to create conditions in which foreign workers and Japanese workers are treated equally in work places.h
The lawyers for the four Chinese trainees emphasized the significance of this ruling by stating, gThis court ruling has set a right direction for solving this kind of problem facing foreign trainees. It will have important bearings on similar lawsuits throughout the country. It is a landmark court decision in that it held the body accepting foreign employees responsible. Following the Tsu District Court ruling last year, the Kumamoto ruling has contributed to setting a trend toward victory.h
For the first time in Japan, a court has recognized the responsibility of the Cooperative Union, which provided the reception of foreign trainees. This is a milestone toward foreign establishing rights for trainees or interns.
On February 9, two of the plaintiffs, the secretary general of the Kumamoto Federation of Trade Unions and lawyers' group members traveled to Tokyo. After a meeting with Japanese Communist Party (JCP) members of the Diet, they visited the Justice Ministry to deliver a letter to the Justice Minister. In a meeting with the Immigration Bureau director, TANAKA Masahiro, at the Justice Ministry, the two Chinese trainees said, gUpon arriving in Japan in the evening from Qingdao, China, the company president took our passports and seals and told us to begin to work on the same day.h They said they were put in a workplace to make underwear for a subcontractor of Wacoal from 8:30 AM to 10:00 PM. They were paid only 60,000 yen or 670 US dollars a month. They were forced to work overtime for 300 yen or 3.3 US dollars per hour. In the dormitory 12 foreign trainees shared a room. If foreign trainees have not done all that they were told to, they were yelled at by managers. They urged the ministry to eliminate such slave-like working conditions as soon as possible.
In the evening that day, Ma Guiqin and Gu Meijuan were invited to attend a gathering held to encourage them at Zenroren Hall. Zenroren President DAIKOKU Sakuji offered them a word of appreciation. The two also spoke with Zenroren secretariat staff members.
They said, gWe have denounced the abuse of foreign trainees. Back in China, we will continue to work in response to Zenroren's call for a society in which people of all nationalities can live together peacefully. We will let our Chinese friends know of the emotional backbone we obtained in Japan, and do our best to increase friendship between China and Japan. We had thought that Japanese people are all like the presidents of the companies we dealt with, but we learned throughout the court struggle that there are Japanese people who are kind. I now love Japan.h