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  • Mainichi: Chinese Trainees awarded big after taking exploitative strawberry farm to court

    Posted by arudou debito on February 12th, 2008

    Hi Blog. Update to an earlier story on this blog. Good news about Strawberry Fields. You know the place where justice got real…

    Congrats to the Trainees who didn’t just go home like good little disenfranchised Guest Workers, and managed to get the Japanese judiciary to establish deterrents to exploitative employers. Arudou Debito

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    Employees win suit against Tochigi farms for unpaid wages, unfair dismissals
    Mainichi Shinbun February 11, 2008
    http://mdn.mainichi.jp/national/news/20080211p2a00m0na009000c.html
    Courtesy of Ben Shearon

    TSUGA, Tochigi — A group of strawberry farmers will have to pay a combined 30 million yen in unpaid and overtime wages, and reinstate five Chinese trainees who were unfairly dismissed after losing a class action suit brought against them by their employees.

    The farmers have also acknowledged that they took away some of the trainees’ passports and forced them to save their wages: which, if proved, would constitute an illegal act, barring the farmers from accepting future trainees, according to the Ministry of Justice.

    The trouble began when the Choboen strawberry farm in Tsuga dismissed five Chinese trainees in December last year because of a poor harvest, and attempted to force them to go back to their home country.

    The five joined 10 trainees at six other strawberry farms in demanding 52.25 million yen in unpaid wages and overtime allowances over the past three years.

    The owners of the seven farms have apologized for forcing the trainees to work for long hours and paying overtime allowances below the legal minimum. They agreed to pay a total of about 30 million yen to the 15, and Choboen retracted its dismissals.
    (Mainichi Japan) February 11, 2008
    ENDS

    5 Responses to “Mainichi: Chinese Trainees awarded big after taking exploitative strawberry farm to court”

    1. vegetablej Says:

      Fantastic! Wonderful to see justice. Hope this proves to be a lasting precedent for better treatment of foreign workers.

    2. Ke5in Says:

      I hate to be the pessimist, but I don’t see this as much of a victory … 30 million is just over half what they were claiming for THREE years unpaid wages and overtime.
      Add to what they didn’t get : court costs – assuming the Farmers aren’t having to pay that – and however long this all took in lost income and other incidentals like, I wonder if they’ll have to pay more key money to re-rent their apartments or some such and even 3 years interest on their saving lost … not to mention stress etc ;)

      It strikes me that the Farmers got a slap on the wrists and will be laughing all the way to the bank :O I wouldn’t call it justice at all :(

      –I agree. I’m just happy they bothered to work through the Japanese judiciary and actually won. It would have been much worse for everyone in their position if they merely went home or even lost in court. The Japanese judiciary rarely awards anything close to something that would act as a true financial punishment to the Defendant (and the court filing fee system penalizes with high costs those who file for large amounts). Still, having gone through all of this myself a few times, I’m pleased to see the victory despite the odds. Maybe that experience has lowered my expectations a little too much… Debito

    3. icarus Says:

      Ke5in, I totally see your point, but at the same time, these persistent souls have set a court precedent (like VegetableJ said) which is probably much more valuable than the money they received. The employers may have only been slapped on the wrist, but the employees’ victory can perhaps be used in future court cases to help other people in similar situations. I wish these employees all the best because they’ve probably helped a lot of people.

    4. Ke5in Says:

      Oh yes, I agree that it’s good to get a victory here and I’m sure the workers are certainly happy to get something rather than nothing.

      However, being the pessimist that I am and looking at the flip side, it also sets the precedence for the courts to award “window dressing” settlements to the victims and to hand out lenient punishment to offenders. Divvy up all the money involved and it’s a pretty light slap on the wrist and a pretty limp settlement. And you can bet that the severity will taper off, rather than increase . Other cases will be compared to this; you can hardly expect suitable reparations if not getting wages and overtime for 3 years only nets you a \2,000,000 settlement!

      Three years wages and overtime? I still don’t get how you could go three years without getting wages and still survive!

      Still … could be worse! :D

    5. icarus Says:

      Three years wages and overtime? I still don’t get how you could go three years without getting wages and still survive!

      The wording is a little vague, but the way I read this is that the workers were paid less than the minimum wage and this ruling would help make up for some of that difference. So for example, maybe they were supposed to get 500 yen per hour but were only paid 300 yen. The fact that they were asking for unpaid overtime allowances makes me believe that they were working long days but being paid less than minimum wage. I could be wrong, but if this is true, the ruling isn’t really all that bad.

      I see what you’re saying about the ‘window dressing’ ruling. Hopefully the thought of spending money on lawyer fees would push these farms to handle payment in a responsible way.

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