Foreigners march for worker rights

by Thomasina Larkin and Ben Stubbings

Workers from all parts of the globe battled wind and rain Sunday to give speeches, performances and then trudge through the streets of Shibuya, Tokyo, calling for job security and equality for all.

“This march is about raising people’s awareness about the job situation in Japan, especially for foreigners,” said an American woman dressed as the pink rabbit mascot for Nova, the nation’s biggest chain of English-language schools. “It keeps getting worse and worse, with job contracts and other common problems.

“We want contracts that are more beneficial for employees, not just for companies,” she said, asking to keep her name confidential.

About 300 mainly foreign supporters attended the “March In March,” which was organized by the National Union of General Workers Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus, Kanagawa City Union, Zentoitsu Workers’ Union and Tokyo Occupational Safety and Wealth Center.

“Three main areas are involved in our work,” said Peruvian Augusto Tamanaha, from Kanagawa City Union. “The first is dismissal. It’s too easy for foreigners to get fired for no or poor reasons. Second is salary issues. And third relates to accidents.

“For example, in an accident in the workplace, why do Japanese have one kind of treatment and migrant workers have another?” he asked. “We are fighting to (make employers) obey the law — the Labor (Standard) Law — as migrant people.”

“The most important thing is job security,” said Briton Bob Tench, general secretary of the National Union of General Workers Nambu Foreign Workers Caucus. “The vast majority of language teachers are on fixed contracts, which in no way gives job security, because when the year ends there’s the threat that your contract may not be renewed.”

Social insurance and pensions are also equally serious issues, he said. “A lot of foreign workers are not enrolled in ‘shakai hosho’ (social security), which is against the law. It puts people at a great risk of hardship if they suffer from an illness or an accident.”