Justice for former JNR workers

A 23-year-old labor dispute affecting former workers of the now-defunct Japanese National Railways (JNR) is likely to be resolved, as the National Railway Workers’ Union (Kokuro) and other bodies concerned have accepted a ¥20 billion settlement plan.

Under the plan, worked out by the coalition government and Komeito, 910 households will each receive ¥22 million as “reconciliation money,” for a total of some ¥14.2 billion. Kokuro and other bodies concerned will receive some ¥5.8 billion, to be used to help the former workers find employment. However, there is no guarantee that every former worker will be employed by the JR firms that took over JNR’s operations.

JNR was privatized and divided in April 1987, but the newly established JR firms refused to employ some 7,630 former JNR workers, mostly Kokuro members. Those former JNR workers were transferred to the now-defunct JNR Settlement Corp. but it fired 1,047 of them.

Under the JNR reform law, newly established JR firms offered positions to JNR workers based on a list supplied by JNR. When compiling the list, the JNR told workers that those who did not leave labor unions such as Kokuro and the Japan Railway Motive Power Union would not be employed at JR firms.

Central and regional labor-relations commissions, one after another, recognized illegal labor practices on the part of the JR firms and ordered them to hire the workers fired by JNR Settlement Corp. But a 2003 Supreme Court ruling sided with the JNR firms, saying that as independent bodies they were under no obligation to employ the fired workers. This triggered litigation against the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, which by then had taken over some of JNR Settlement Corp.’s business.

The government is largely responsible for the confusion because the content of the JNR reform law failed to prevent the illegal labor practices. The JR firms have a responsibility to hire the workers in question. The government should take steps to ensure that the details of settlement are executed properly, and that the former workers find employment.