Hi Blog. Another report of exploited imported labor fighting back. Of course, the employers blame labor for their plight. Strawberry Fields Forever….
Wage row erupts between strawberry farms, sacked Chinese apprentices
Mainichi Shinbun January 29, 2008
Courtesy Ben S.
TSUGA, Tochigi — A dispute has erupted between a group of Chinese apprentices and strawberry farms in Japan after one farm sacked a group of students and tried to force them to leave the country.
A total of 15 apprentices have fled from the farm operators and are demanding a total of about 52.25 million yen in unpaid wages for the past three years.
Sources close to the case said that the 15 male apprentices, from China’s Shandong and Heilongjiang provinces, came to Japan in the spring of 2005 as farm trainees. After one year of training, they got work at seven strawberry farms and expected to continue their jobs until this spring.
However, in December last year the Choboen strawberry farm in Tsuga informed five of the apprentices that they were being dismissed due to a poor harvest. The farm had a guard accompany them and put them on a bus to Narita Airport and tried to make them return to China, which caused a scuffle to break out.
The five apprentices contacted the Tokyo-based Zentoitsu Workers Union, which supports foreign trainees and skilled apprentices, and 10 foreign workers from six other farms joined up with them afterwards.
One of the apprentices, 34-year-old Zhang Limin, said they had been treated poorly.
“We were treated like slaves, and I always had the feeling that we were looked down on,” he said.
The strawberry farms, located in the Tochigi Prefecture towns of Tsuga, Haga and Ninomiya, paid the apprentices only 500 yen an hour, which was below the prefecture’s minimum hourly wage of about 670 yen. The workers union is demanding that the unpaid wages be given to the students and that the five who were sacked be reinstated.
Choboen officials have admitted that they went too far in trying to force the apprentices to leave the country, but have argued that the dismissal of the students was not unfair. The farms are seeking a reduction to the amount of unpaid wages they owe, which has caused negotiations to run into trouble.
The seven strawberry farms belong to a Tochigi farming cooperative. The head of the cooperative suggested that the apprentices had not taken a serious approach to their work, saying, “If they are high-caliber workers then there’s no need to make them return.”