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HOME  > Past issues  > 2020 May 27 - June 2  > Union stands up against unfair dismissals by Udon-noodle chain under pretext of corona crisis
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2020 May 27 - June 2 [LABOR]

Union stands up against unfair dismissals by Udon-noodle chain under pretext of corona crisis

May 29, 2020
The Osaka-based Japanese traditional noodle restaurant chain “Mimiu” has closed six restaurants in the Kanto area, including Tokyo, and dismissed 100 restaurant workers with the use of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis as a pretext. A union representing workers at the six restaurants stood up to win the withdrawal of unfair dismissals and the business closure plan.

The Mimiu restaurant chain, famous for its menu item Udon-suki (a name combining udon-noodle and sukiyaki), since 1973 has operated six restaurants in Tokyo and the surrounding area. The company on April 19 announced that it will close all six outlets within a month and began forcing 100 restaurant employees to sign a severance agreement following individual interviews.

A 21-year-old female worker, who came from Fukuoka Prefecture, worked at a Mimiu restaurant for three years. She said, “I refused to sign the agreement because I’m not convinced of the legality of the company’s decision.” She, however, was ordered to move out of the company dormitory by June 20. On top of this, she was not entitled to receive a retirement allowance because the length of her service failed to fulfill the requirement for this allowance.

Following the restaurant chain’s announcement, a Tokyo local of the National Union of General Workers (Zenkoku-Ippan) which organizes Mimiu restaurant workers began negotiating with the company.

At a collective bargaining session held on the eve of the business shutdown, the Zenkoku-Ippan Tokyo local demanded that the company not force its restaurant workers to sign the retirement agreement. The union’s demand was rejected and union members who refused to sign the agreement were fired. In reaction, the union filed with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Labor Relations Commission a claim for relief from the unfair dismissals.

Lawyer Sasaki Ryo who works for the Zenkoku-Ippan local pointed out that the focus of this matter is whether the Mimiu’s attempt to close the six restaurant shops meets the “four requirements for workforce reduction” established by judicial precedents (i.e. necessity of dismissal, efforts to avoid dismissal, rationality in selecting who is to be dismissed, and engagement in discussions with workers).

According to the union, the Mimiu chain in March explained that the company will be able to survive the corona crisis because it has a surplus of 60 million yen. In addition, the company in its official website boasted that it has enough cash reserves and will open a new restaurant in Osaka.

Zenkoku-Ippan Tokyo local chair Kaji Tetsuhiro stressed that given its financial capacity, the noodle restaurant chain can maintain employment. A 44-year-old male worker demanded that the company continue operating the six restaurants by utilizing government subsidy programs.
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