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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 December 19 - 2019 January 8  > Independent contractors for TEPCO subsidiary unionized
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2018 December 19 - 2019 January 8 [LABOR]

Independent contractors for TEPCO subsidiary unionized

January 6, 2019
Electric meter replacement contractors for a Tokyo Electric Power Company subsidiary in December 2018 formed their union to demand the withdrawal of the unfair termination of their colleague’s contract.

Union members provide electric meter replacement services under a contract with Watt Line Service, a subsidiary of TEPCO-related heavy electricity machinery company Takaoka Toko Co., Ltd. Retired TEPCO executives parachute into the Takaoka president position.

The union was organized as a branch of the National Union of General Workers (Zenkoku-ippan) which is affiliated with the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren). Union branch head Watanabe Kiyoshi, who is a skilled electric meter technician with a 31-year career, said, “Rules are necessary as a half-baked attitude during work could lead to occupational accidents. However, Watt Line’s rules are atrocious.”

The Watt Line-set rules, for example, require contract workers to take photos at the time of work completion to prove their work was done properly. However, they receive demerit points if their photos are judged to be blurry. Excessive demerit points carry penalties including an order of a two-week suspension of service. Watanabe said, “A decrease in job orders means a loss of earnings. So, we sometimes have to work even under bad weather conditions. This constitute a safety hazard.”

He continued to say that newly-hired contractors face the risk of getting a serious eye injury as they are assigned to the replacement job just after a short training session.

Under such circumstances, in November last year, one independent contractor received a notification of contract termination as a penalty for breaking the company-set rules. As the reason for this, Watt Line Service stated that the contractor missed a company message via the messaging app, LINE, regarding changes in work procedures. Following this incident, Watanabe together with some other colleagues in December formed a Zenkoku-ippan branch and requested the company to negotiate with them.

Rejecting the union’s request, Watt Line insisted that the company had no labor contract with union members and thus they were not “employees”. However, given the fact that Watt Line’s independent contractors are working under direct instructions and supervision from the company, they should be recognized as workers specified by the Labor Union Law.

The Abe government intends to expand a work system under which workers are used as “independent contractors” while employers can escape from paying the cost of “hiring workers”.

Zenkoku-ippan officer Mori Hiromi said, “We provide the counselling service to workers who are forced to agree to work as ‘independent contractors’ under their employers’ push to reduce labor costs. The need is for labor unions to protect and organize ‘independent contractors’.”

Past related articles:
> NHK ‘contract staff’ recognized as 'worker' as specified in Labor Union Law [September 29, 2018]
> Opera singer wins out-of-court settlement over labor dispute with New National Theater [February 12, 2016]
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