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HOME  > Past issues  > 2014 July 9 - 15  > Printing company workers counter union busting attempt
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2014 July 9 - 15 TOP3 [LABOR]

Printing company workers counter union busting attempt

July 10, 2014
Labor union members at a printing company have been standing up against the company’s attempt to close the business in order to bust the union.

The Shinano publishing and printing company, which is located in Nagano’s Saku City, is an old firm which was established in 1883. Under the control of its parent corporation, Shinano Co., about 70 workers are engaged in platemaking there.

Kasai Koji, a 32-year-old employee, said, “Young workers, who finally managed to learn the necessary craft skills after working for some three years, have been resigning one after another.” Another male worker with a 33-year career said, “I know only five or six persons who stayed with this company until the retirement age.”

The printing firm forces its employees to work long hours every month with a fixed maximum overtime pay of 60,000 yen. During the busy season, the amount of overtime often reaches 120 hours a month. Divide 60,000 yen by 120 and you get 500 yen. The prefectural authorities set the hourly minimum wage of printing industry workers at 747 yen.

The firm asserts that its labor practices are legitimate because it applies the discretionary work system to its employees. Under the system, workers work for a fixed number of hours under a labor-management agreement. The labor minister’s notification limits jobs subject to the work system to certain professions such as editors and designers.

Platemaking does not come within the category of such “professions”. The company, however, has applied the work system to its workers, insisting that they use “editing software” when making plates on PCs.

Kasai has thought to himself, “If I keep working here, my health may deteriorate at some future time.” When he shared his anxiety with young colleagues, he found that many of them want to quit for similar reasons to his.

In a bid to improve the working conditions, Kasai consulted with a lawyer. The lawyer recommended that he ask for advice from a local union which is affiliated with the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren).

With the help of that union, Kasai called for his co-workers to form their own union. Six months later, in September 2013, he succeeded in organizing more than half of all the workers into a union and became the union chair.

The following month, union members held their first collective bargaining session, demanding that the management put an end to the application of the discretionary labor system as well as stop forcing employees to work on holidays.

In January this year, usually a busy month, the number of orders received suddenly fell off. The truth is that its parent company passed almost all of those orders on to another subsidiary in Tokyo. The president of the holding company announced in early May a plan to close the office in Nagano on July 20. After the announcement, the affiliated firm pressed its employees to choose either being transferred to a Tokyo office or accepting early retirement.

Unionized employees criticized the management for trying to shut down the business with the aim of destroying the union. Kasai showed his determination to continue to struggle, saying, “We cannot tolerate such underhanded downsizing. I want to protect our jobs at any cost.”

At present, the government of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is aiming to adversely revise labor laws and introduce a new system which allows employers to have employees work overtime without pay.

Past related article:
> Abe’s labor reform will decrease workers’ wages by 42 trillion yen: think tank [February 14, 2014]
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