National / Crime & Legal

Employees sue moving firm Hikkoshisha over mandatory damage reimbursement

Kyodo

A group of current and former workers at mover Hikkoshisha Co. filed a lawsuit Friday with the Nagoya District Court against the company, seeking some ¥70 million in compensation for lost wages used to reimburse for damage incurred during transit.

The 12 plaintiffs, calling the company’s practice unjust, demanded that its Nagoya branch and other subsidiaries of the Hikkoshisha group remedy the situation.

The Nagoya-based firm, whose full name is Arisan Mark no Hikkoshisha, advertises itself with a logo showing two ants carrying heavy weights.

According to the petition, Hikkoshisha forced the employees to reimburse customers for damage to furniture and other items incurred during transit or in accidents caused by the company’s truck drivers.

When the compensation cost was too high for employees to cover, the company’s mutual aid association, established to provide financial support to its workers by offering loans, paid the whole sum and later deducted it from their salaries.

The plaintiffs are arguing that damage incurred when the crew performs its duties with caution and without negligence is one of the business risks that a company has to manage, and reimbursing by deducting the sum from workers’ salaries is unreasonable.

The plaintiffs also say Hikkoshisha frequently cuts workers’ pay when the company posts poor business results, and demotes workers without any grounds. This maltreatment inflicts financial and other serious problems in daily life, leading to emotional distress, they say.

Hikkoshisha said it couldn’t comment on the lawsuit.

One of the plaintiffs, Takuya Suzuki, 28, who joined Hikkoshisha after graduating from college and worked there about three years, said it was a common practice that all damage during transit was deducted and reimbursed from workers’ wages.

“We got used to it, and thought it was natural for us to compensate the damage,” Suzuki said.

He recalled an incident in which a cardboard box of kimono got wet because of rain, and he and a co-worker were forced to pay more than ¥100,000 for their cleaning.

Suzuki also said he was ordered to pay compensation twice, around ¥400,000 and ¥250,000, for damage when he was driving a moving truck.

He said he decided to leave the company three years ago when his wife became pregnant because he feared that his debts would increase if he caused any more accidents.

But when he was contacted in February by a current employee of the company who said Hikkoshisha’s working conditions may be illegal, Suzuki began to think the company’s practices were wrong, he said.

He said he sought help from the Precariat Union — a labor union working to protect the rights mainly of young workers and part-timers — and entered negotiations with the company, but Hikkoshisha failed to deal with the problem.

“I’m worried about those who are still working for the company,” Suzuki said. “This company has to change.

“I worked hard for the company, but I was often disappointed to see my pay slip,” he said after filing the lawsuit. “It wasn’t worth working for. There is no way I can accept this.”