Kokuro threatens lawsuit over JNR privatization row

Kyodo News

More than 500 members of Kokuro, the National Railway Workers’ Union, plan to file a 30 billion yen damages suit next week over Japan Railway companies’ refusal to hire them when their state-run predecessor, the Japanese National Railways, was privatized in 1987, union officials said.

Also joining the suit as plaintiffs will be Kokuro itself and relatives of Kokuro members who have since died, the officials said, adding the number of plaintiffs will reach 540.

Kokuro will seek compensation for the loss of union fees incurred when the JR companies did not hire the union members after the carriers were created by the JNR privatization and breakup.

They said the suit will be filed with the Tokyo District Court on Dec. 5 against the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, a semipublic organization that has taken over operations of JNR Settlement Corp., the government-backed entity set up in 1987 to resolve problems remaining from the JNR breakup and to devise ways to pay off the huge debts left by the national railway.

Kokuro, however, aims to use the suit primarily as leverage for settling the labor dispute using the intervention of political parties.

“This suit is for securing an option to solve problems through the court before the statute of limitations expires. We will consider dropping the suit when a political solution becomes feasible,” a Kokuro official said.

In December 2003, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal requesting that the former JNR employees in the labor unions that opposed the JNR privatization in 1987 be hired by the private Japan Railway companies that succeeded JNR.

The appeal was made by the Central Labor Relations Commission, the government’s top labor mediation body.

In September 2005, the Tokyo District Court ruled that the JNR discriminated against such employees when recruiting for the new JR companies.

It was the first time a court had recognized unfair labor practices by the now-defunct JNR or its affiliates and ordered compensation over the JR firms’ refusal to hire JNR employees.