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HOME  > Past issues  > 2008 January 9 - 15  > Animation workers seek better working conditions
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2008 January 9 - 15 [LABOR]

Animation workers seek better working conditions

January 5, 2008
Although Japan-made animation films are world-renowned, it is almost unknown even in Japan that the 5,000 or so animation workers, including animators, are forced to work as “individual contractors” without protection under the Labor Standards Law.

Satoko is a 30-year-old woman animator drawing “roughs” at Toei Animation Co., Ltd. which has produced famous animation films such as “Pretty Cure, Precure” and “ONE PIECE.” “I am pleased to see my name appear as one of the staff on TV programs,” says Satoko.

The number of “roughs” she can draw a day is three at most. Pressed to meet deadlines, she works for ten hours everyday. However, her basic salary amounts to only 160,000 yen a month. With piecework pay added, she barely earns 200,000 yen.

The company treats her as a self-employed individual, saying, “We just lend you a desk.” It refuses to apply the Labor Standards Law to her and will not pay overtime.

Toei Animation is outsourcing 95 percent of the total workload to subcontractors, including foreign firms, in order to cut personnel costs. At the same time, the company uses many “individual contractors” who have no labor rights, like Satoko, in order to make up for shortages of in-house manpower.

According to the Japan Council of Performers’ Organizations (Geidankyo), animators on average work for ten hours a day or more than 250 hours a month. Their average monthly income is about 94,000 yen (half of the minimum hourly wage) for “cleanup” drawings and about 187,000 yen for “rough” drawings.

At Toei Animation, there is the Toei Animation Labor Union, a division of the Federation of Cinema and Theatrical Workers Union of Japan (Eien-Roren) affiliated with the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren). Together with “individual contractors,” the union has been tenaciously working to improve their insecure employment status. The union has so far achieved the introduction of the basic salary system into the mere piecework pay system and won bonuses for workers. The union has also won overtime allowances for animators.

It was in 2001 when the tax office ordered the company to revise its income declaration, saying, “Judging from the actual working conditions of individual contractors, they should be classified as salaried workers.” The company insisted, “If the Labor Standards Law is applied to the film industry, many companies will go out of business.” It planned to designate only a handful of “individual contractors” as salaried workers, placing most of them under the “pay-per-piecework” system.

This company plan led many “individual contractors” to join the union as anxieties spread among them.

In order to force the company to treat all “individual contractors” as salaried workers, the Toei Animation Labor Union was preparing for a lawsuit. Eventually, the company promised to treat all 154 “individual contractors” as salaried workers. They also became eligible to participate in the employee pension and the social insurance programs.

Today, the union is conducting negotiations with the company over the establishment of a retirement benefit system for them.

Toei Animation Labor Union Chair Ide Takeo said, “Workers’ stable life ensures good work. But the Toei Animation case is still exceptional in the industry.”

Eien-Roren Chair Takahashi Kunio said, “It takes time to become a full-fledged animator. Without improvement of working conditions, capable people will not enter the industry.”

Asako, a 36-year-old woman animator, said, “I want to continue making animation films that people will enjoy. To that end, the way Toei Animation treats its workers should become the industry standard.”
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