Damages awarded over nonhiring of JNR unionists

The now-defunct Japanese National Railways discriminated against employees in a union opposed to the 1987 JNR privatization by not ensuring they were rehired by the spinoff carriers, the Tokyo District Court said in a landmark ruling Thursday.

Presiding Judge Koichi Nanba ordered the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, which took over some JNR operations, to pay 5 million yen in damages to each of the 283 plaintiffs, who are members of the National Railway Workers Union (Kokuro), which was backed by the former Japan Socialist Party.

“The plaintiffs were not listed as candidates for recruitment at the newly established Hokkaido Railway Co. and Kyushu Railway Co. because JNR arbitrarily evaluated their work performances low because of their union activities,” Nanba said.

“Their rights to receive fair evaluations were infringed upon by JNR, which treated them unfairly.”

Nanba, however, rejected the plaintiffs’ demand to remain employed by the agency, saying, “There were reasonable causes for dismissal.”

The plaintiffs said they would appeal the ruling because of this point of contention and because the damages awarded fail to compensate for their hardships since 1987.

Thursday’s ruling is the first awarding compensation for ex-JNR workers who were not hired by the Japan Railway group firms due to the discriminatory labor practices of JNR and its affiliates.

In December 2003, the Supreme Court turned down a suit filed by former Kokuro members demanding jobs at JR firms, ruling the spinoff carriers bore no liability for JNR’s unfair labor practices.

Thursday’s ruling may open the door to other parties who have lost other legal battles over the jobs lost in the 1987 JNR privatization to sue the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency.

When JNR was privatized and broken up into several JR group firms in April 1987, about 7,600 JNR workers — mainly Kokuro members working in its Hokkaido and Kyushu operations — were not rehired by the spinoffs.

JNR Settlement Corp. hired most of them temporarily and gave them three years to look for new jobs. But when the transition period expired in April 1990, the corporation terminated the employment of 1,047 people who had been unable to find other jobs.

The plaintiffs in Thursday’s suit were among the 1,047. Those who have died since the action was initiated are being represented by relatives.

JNR Settlement was dissolved in 1998 and some of its work was taken over by the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, established in 2003.

The agency said it was “extremely regrettable” that it was ordered to pay compensation to the plaintiffs.

According to the plaintiffs and their lawyers, three other cases involving a combined 87 former JNR workers are still pending before the Tokyo District Court.

“Our honor was restored by the court’s recognition” of the unfair labor practices, Naoaki Sakai, leader of the plaintiffs, told reporters in Tokyo. “But my pain and suffering during the 18 years since being turned down for work (at the JR firms) are beyond description.”

Several other plaintiffs and their lawyers were angry that the court refused to order the agency to employ them.

Kokuro welcomed the compensation award over JNR’s discrimination against its members during the JR firms’ 1987 recruitment drives.

However, the damages amount was far from sufficient, given the suffering the idled workers went through since then, the union said.