Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Japan continues to become foreign

Once upon a time, we heard how wonderful it was that in Japan people did not sue. (Not exactly true, they could and did. It was just that they could rarely win and the case might take 20 or more years.) Japan was not like the US and selfish, self-centered Americans---and others---who placed their own needs above that of their company.

Now we see a few employees suing their companies and actually prevailing. And prevailing in a reasonable period of time:

According to Japan’s Supreme Court, the number of lawsuits filed against employers rose 45 percent from 1997 to 2005, to 2,303 cases. In 2006, that number increased 21 percent, to 2,777 cases if lawsuits heard by a newly created labor arbitration court are included.

Adding to the alienation between employee and company has been a growing sense of resentment that workers have not benefited from the nation’s economic rebound in the last half decade.

While corporate profits have soared, wages have remained stagnant, feeding a perception that companies have failed to share the good times with employees. This has led some to seek a bigger piece of the pie, say legal and labor experts.

There is also a feeling that as companies have cut costs to remain competitive with the cheaper China and South Korea, they passed too much of the burden onto employees. In particular, many of the recent lawsuits involve a practice known as “service overtime,” in which workers were silently pressured into logging long hours of unpaid overtime as a display of loyalty, say labor experts.

...the recent rise in lawsuits was also the latest step in a longer-term move toward a more American-style workplace ..
.(Yea, sure.)

The NYT article examines a recent lawsuit by the widow of a Toyota employee who died from over-work and the recent victory against McDonalds Japan in which McDs was ordered to pay overtime for overtime to its managers.

Shockingly, neither Toyota nor McDs Japan had any comments for the story in the New York Times.

A related New York Times article on whistle-blowers exposing company misdeeds, such as Senga Kitcho and their serving of pre-owned food, is here:

...A car company that hid dangerous flaws to avoid embarrassing recalls. A meat processor that sold ground pig hearts as beef. A fancy restaurant chain that served customers leftover sashimi from other diners.

In recent years, Japan’s faith in its corporate establishment has been shaken by a series of scandals in which companies of all sizes have been caught in frauds ranging from the merely nauseating to the patently dangerous. More shocking than the misdeeds is the fact that employees are blowing the whistle...

I admit to some skepticism about whether or not these are really trends or not. I would be a bit more inclined to believe that whistle-blowers are becoming more common as the results of their actions are readily apparent.

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