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Statement on the legal settlement of 23 year lawsuit over Japan Railway Company’s discrimination in employment against members of particular unions

By NEMOTO Takshi
Chair, Zenroren Task Force for National Railway Workers’ Struggle

June 29, 2010

A legal settlement was reached at the Supreme Court on June 28 ending a dispute between 1,047 former workers of the Japanese National Railways and the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, an independent administrative agency. The agency agreed to pay a total of 20 billion yen (22 million yen per worker) in settlement money to 904 plaintiffs, who have demanded that the former National Japanese Railways be held responsible for the unfair labor practices against them. This is the settlement that the plaintiffs and their families, who have been forced to endure unbearable hardships, have waited for 23 years. The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) sincerely welcomes this settlement.

The government’s “settlement plan”, which served as the basis for the reconciliation, was presented on April 9 to the four parties/four organizations and accepted by them on April 12. The plan called for the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency to pay settlement money to the plaintiffs in return for the drop of the lawsuit. However, regarding the employment of these workers, it just requested the Japan Railway (JR) group companies to hire these workers, who were ultimately fired (after the privatization and breakup of the Japanese National Railways into seven companies). Although the plan contains settlement measures that are far from what the four parties/four organizations have demanded, namely “jobs, pension benefits and settlement money,” the plaintiffs decided to accept it taking into account the 23 years of struggle, the united efforts of the four parties and the unified response of the All Japan Construction, Transport and General Unions (Knkoro), the National Railway Workers’ Union (Kokuro), and their supporter organizations, as well as the effort of all political parties to resolve the dispute.

The privatization and breakup of the Japanese National Railways (JNR) was imposed on April 1, 1987 under the government led by Prime Minister NAKASONE Yasuhiro, signaling the start of a neoliberal and deregulation policy. Nakasone in the Diet said, “No one will be left homeless and destitute.” The House of Councilors adopted a resolution pledging that no JNR workers would be discriminated against based on union affiliation. Nevertheless, more than 7,000 workers, mostly members of the National Railway Workers’ Union (Kokuro) and the National Railway Locomotive Engineers' Union (Zendoro), were not hired by the privatized companies. They were classified as “employees who need to be reemployed” and transferred to the Japanese National Railway Settlement Corporation (a liquidation company set up to take over the JNR long-term debt and assets needed for railway operations) for a period up to three years.

In April 1990, 1,047 workers were dismissed for a second time, including 64 Zendoro members and 965 Kokuro members. They have continued to fight against the dismissals for 23 years. It has been a long-term and undaunted struggle. Not only these workers but their family members have been forced to endure hardships in everyday lives and mental suffering. Sixty-four of them died before the settlement.

Zenroren at its extraordinary Convention held in April 1990, five months after its founding, denounced the dismissals of the 1,047 people as an “unlawful labor practice by state” and defined the struggle to win the settlement as a critical link of the effort to revitalize the labor movement. We have done everything possible in support of their struggle, and at the same time sought to help enhance the safety of the services of JR as a public transportation system. The effort to attain the settlement has been driven by the tenacious struggle of the Zendoro workers’ group and the Kokuro workers’ group, and by their family members as well as the organization struggle put up by Kenkoro and Kokuro. Their struggle has been supported by various supporters’ groups.

The settlement of the dispute over the discrimination against workers in JR employment will go down in history as the settlement of the biggest labor dispute with state. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who were forced out of work and the railway and transportations agency reached a legal settlement. But these workers are not yet employed by JR group companies. Zenroren will work together with Kenkoro and the Zendoro workers’ group to help achieve a total settlement, including the hiring of the dismissed workers. Zenroren will learn lessons from this struggle against JR’s discrimination in employment, so that we will be able to further develop the struggle to defend jobs and rights of workers.