More than a year has passed since a mediation process was introduced in district courts to settle labor disputes, especially between individual workers and companies. The system, which went into force in April 2006, utilizes the experience of people such as corporate personnel affairs experts and labor union officials so that the courts can quickly offer solutions acceptable to both the workers and the companies.

Of the 1,163 cases filed through the end of March 2007, more than 80 percent were resolved before the process moved to the civil-lawsuit stage. Hopefully, further efforts will help people use the system more easily. Under the system, a mediator from management, another from labor, and a judge convene to hear cases. The process, in principle, consists of three sessions and usually ends in three to four months. Unlike in civil lawsuits, the mediators and judge may orally question the parties concerned. They offer a mediation proposal; if the parties don’t accept it, they hand down a decision. If the decision is not accepted, the process automatically leads to a civil lawsuit.

The cost to use the system is cheap, and, in simple cases, workers can resort to the system without hiring lawyers. Among those who have used the new system is a contract worker who complained to his employer after he was punched by his boss and then fired. It is reported that an average case takes 74 days to be settled. But there is room for the system to improve. Labor unions call for simpler procedures enabling a labor union official to serve as a mediator.

In some cases, the compensation demanded by workers is so small that it hardly justifies their hiring lawyers even if they want to. Local bar associations should be more positive about lawyers’ participation in the process.

Since mediators include experts from labor as well as management, the system is trustworthy and useful in settling minor problems at the workplace. Enlightening workers and companies on its usefulness will not only increase the number of workers and companies that use it but also help improve the system.

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