JNR unionists’ suit over lost jobs foiled by statute

Kyodo News

The Tokyo District Court turned down a lawsuit Thursday filed by members of the National Railway Workers’ Union seeking damages for the refusal by Japan Railway carriers to hire them when their state-run predecessor, the Japanese National Railways, was privatized in 1987.

The plaintiffs — 32 union members and three relatives of a deceased member — insisted they were not hired back because they were members of the union that opposed the JNR privatization, but presiding Judge Shigeru Nakanishi said the statute of limitations for seeking compensation had expired when the lawsuit was filed, whether or not there had been illegal practices in the past.

The lawsuit was first filed with the court by some of the members in November 2004 against the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, an organization that has taken over operations of JNR Settlement Corp., a government-backed entity set up in 1987 to handle problems left over from the JNR privatization.

The other members joined the suit later.

“Even if there were illegal activities, they would have occurred in either April 1987 when JR was launched, or by April 1990 at the latest, when (the plaintiffs) were dismissed from JNR Settlement,” the judge said, ruling that three years had passed since the expiry of the statute of limitations as the lawsuit was filed after 2004.

The judge did not mention if there had been unfair labor practices. In April 1987, the unionists were transferred to JNR Settlement with a time limit of three years, but were dismissed in April 1990 after the term expired.

Contrary to Thursday’s ruling, other members of the union won a similar case in 2005 and another now-defunct union also won in January.