Report for Commission 4:
The Struggle of 1,047 Japan National Railways Workers to Cancel Their Dismissals: 20 Years of Seeking a Quick Resolution from the Japanese Government
National Railway Workers’ Union, Kinki Region Struggle Committee
Lawyers and citizens from around the world, people from the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, and Vietnam National Railway workers —
I am Masaru Oya from the National Railway Workers’ Union (NRU), Kinki Region Struggle Committee .
At this International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) congress I wish to report on the struggle of us national railway workers, and ask for your understanding and support.
In 1987 when Japan National Railways (JNR) was divided into regional companies and privatized, many workers were unjustly dismissed by the Japanese government. For the past 23 years we have continued our struggle to be reinstated.
On March 25, 2009 Tokyo Appellate Court handed down its decision, which found clearly that there had been hiring discrimination against people including those who were then NRU members. We forcefully demand that the Japanese government honor this decision and resolve this NRU member dismissal issue.
2. The Purpose of JNR Division and Privatization, and Crushing of the Labor Union
On April 1, 1987 JNR, which the Japanese people had built over a period of 115 years, was divided into a number of private JR companies. On that occasion 7,600 people including NRU members, who had sought safety first for rail transport and who had opposed division and privatization, were not hired by the JR companies. I myself had worked as a train driver in Osaka for 20 years without an accident, but I was dismissed. There are still 1,047 people who have not been reinstated.
At that time the business organization Nippon Keidanren and the government pushed through deregulation relating to safety and other matters, and deprived workers of rights, in order to guarantee profits to the corporations. This was the beginning of the neoliberal program that made regressive changes in the labor law system, and created many non-regular workers and workers without rights.
Through JNR division and privatization, the finance business and corporations divided up the people’s assets among themselves, and this was also meant to weaken the labor movement, as by crushing NRU. This was because since the end of the Second World War, NRU has played a central role in the struggle to protect the livelihoods and rights of workers. I too was involved in strikes and other actions in the 1960s and 1970s.
3. Our Struggle
In our capacity as a National Railway Workers’ Union struggle committee, we are currently filing lawsuits for employment, pensions, and settlement payments, and demanding a quick resolution through a political judgment by the government. I started this long struggle when I was 44 years old, and I am now 66. What is more, 52 of our 1,047 waiting for a resolution died before it could come.
It has been 22 years since privatization into JR companies. Because of management that focuses on reducing personnel, making people work harder, neglecting safety, and emphasizing profits, in April 2005 a tragic derailment and collision occurred on a JA Kansai line resulting in 107 deaths and 500 people injured. A resolution is needed as soon as possible for safe transport as well.
4. An Appeal to International Public Opinion
(1) On the occasion of the review of Japan’s third country report by the 1993 UN Human Rights Committee, I submitted a counter-report and listened to the review proceedings. In this review I sharply observed to the Japanese delegation that “When JNR was divided and privatized, NRU members who opposed division and privatization were not re-hired. [The union] is asking the Central Labor Relations Committee to review the matter, but if the union members win the trial, the employer will file another lawsuit and it will likely be many years before a judgment is handed down. If this becomes a protracted case, there will likely be no redress for the workers.” I also advised the Japanese government by saying, “It should be noted that procedures for problem resolution in the lawsuit over discrimination against labor union activists are becoming protracted.”
In the 2008 review of Japan’s fifth country report, the recommendation delivered to the Japanese government was that there are concerns that many of the recommendations issued after Japanese government reports have not yet been implemented.
(2) In appeals to the International Labor Organization, ILO Board of Directors meeting 279 in 1999 delivered this recommendation to Japan’s government: “The Committee urges the Government to actively encourage negotiations between the Japan Railway Companies and the complainants with a view to rapidly reaching a satisfactory solution for the parties.” This was the first ILO recommendation. Based on subsequent reports by us and independent studies by the ILO, that organization has issued similar recommendations every year. In March 2009, ILO Board of Directors meeting 304 issued its eighth recommendation: “The Committee once again expresses its hope that the courts will bring a rapid resolution to this long-standing dispute.” The Japanese government must abide by international conventions.
5. My Resolution: To Struggle for Human Dignity
I have learned about the history of the workers’ struggle in Europe and about human dignity through the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, ILO requests, and other opportunities.
In Japan as in other places, the recession is now being used as a pretext to dismiss many workers. Non-regular workers too are creating labor unions and launching counteroffensives. I think that the certain way toward economic recovery is none other than protecting worker employment and guaranteeing consumer buying power to all citizens.
We 1,047 and our families have resolved to win our jobs, pensions, and settlement payments. Please give us your support.