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Power harassment plagues workplaces

Dear Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Yoichi Masuzoe, I can still recall the phone conversation with my spouse on June 2, when I was crying profusely due to harassment at work. Earlier that day, the manager of my unit asked me to resign, stating that one of the deputy managers didn’t like me. On being asked what exactly my mistake was, I was told not to question their authority and not to waste their time.

In the past 18 months at work, I had been harassed on many occasions after blowing the whistle on my deputy manager for handing out orders that were clearly not in line with our global policies. Every time this was brought to their attention, they would get furious and retaliate. Our human resources manager threw up his hands to indicate his helplessness at having to act according to the whims of management rather than as an advocate for employees.

On consulting the Labor Advisory and Inspection Services Department, I was told that more than 45 percent of the cases they have dealt with this decade were related to harassment in the workplace.

Power harassment has been plaguing Japanese workplaces more than ever before, and it goes without saying that this is having a detrimental impact on businesses and society alike. Not only does this impact the worker, but it’s an emotional roller-coaster for the entire family. This depressing state of affairs can only compound the challenges of an aging population and low birth rate.

Just like sexual harassment, any kind of harassment is a violation of fundamental rights of workers; it constitutes a problem of health and safety, of discrimination, of unacceptable working conditions — even a form of violence, directed most often against women.

There is little evidence that the recent media coverage of power harassment has affected the attitudes of those in corporate Japan with the power to harass. Sadly, the problem is that there is no system in place to protect workers against bullying at work.

I urge your ministry to consider introducing a tort law for suing for assault, emotional distress and failure of an employer to provide a safe workplace. The harasser and the employer should be held jointly liable, the former directly and the latter vicariously, in the event of a legal action under this new law for assault. In addition, the employer should be held liable for failing to provide a safe work environment.

While laws exist to address arbitrary dismissal, the painful process in which an employee is mercilessly harassed also needs to be addressed. Only by building a strong and united labor movement, with the support and understanding of the wider public, can we effectively defend jobs, pay and the rights of the working class.

Many global organizations have started to advocate for change, several governments have adopted new legislation, and an increasing number of workers and employers and their organizations have taken measures against it. However, while Japan is years ahead of other developed countries in some areas, it is decades behind in terms of protecting the rights of its workers, its people, its human capital.

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