Japanese stewardesses sue Turkish Airlines for discrim employment conditions


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Hi Blog. Here’s something that didn’t make the English-language news anywhere, as far as Google searches show. Japanese stewardesses are suing Turkish Airlines for unfair treatment and arbitrary termination of contract.  They were also, according to some news reports I saw on Google and TV, angry at other working conditions they felt were substandard, such as lack of changing rooms.  I even saw the headline “discrimination by nationality”.  So they formed a union to negotiate with the airline, and then found themselves fired. 

Fine.  But this is definite Shoe on the Other Foot stuff, especially given the conditions that NJ frequently face in the Japanese workplace.  Let’s hope this spirit of media understanding rubs off for NJ who might want to sue Japanese companies for the same sort of thing. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

(Text of article below follows, quickly translated by Arudou Debito)


Dispatch stewardesses sue Turkish Airlines, demand acknowledgment of their status within the company

Sankei Shinbun January 29, 2009


PHOTO CAPTION:  “We want to be directly employed.”  So charged Funada Akiko (R), member of the Turkish Airlines Union at a press conference at the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare.

On January 29, 13 Japanese women contract workers under dispatch company “TEI” (Tokyo), who were working as flight attendants for Turkish Airlines, filed suit at Tokyo District Court.  “We were effectively working under the same conditions as if we were directly employed by the airline,” they said, and demanded recognition of this status in their contracts from both companies.

The litigants were members of the “Turkish Airlines Union”, led by Funada Akiko (34).

According to the lawsuit filed, the women were dispatched from TEI. Nevertheless, they were treated as if they were workers under a contract with Turkish Airlines.  They were given essential training as flight attendants from Turkish Airlines, and had employment time slots as per Turkish Airlines flight plans.   Each fulfilled their duties as a Japanese flight attendant, supervised by the airline.

At the press conference after filing suit, Ms Funada claimed that TEI would issue a notice dated February 28 that Japanese flight attendant contracts would be terminated.  “The contract period would last until June.  We are furious at how one-sided this termination of contract was.  We want to be employed directly as Japanese flight attendants.”  

She continued, “There was an invisible division between us and the Turkish flight attendants, in terms of differential treatment and salary.  We want to highlight this as a social problem, so that there won’t be any more second- and third-class treatment of staff in the airline industry.”

In September 2008, the 13 Japanese flight attendants formed a union of supporters.  They filed for group negotiations with Turkish Airlines to demand direct employment.  However, the airlines still apparently refuses to meet.

A 33-year-old woman who attended the press conference spoke strongly, “If there are no Japanese flight attendants in the airplane, what happens if there’s an emergency?  How will Japanese passengers be attended to?”

The Japan branch of Turkish Airlines said in a statement, “We haven’t seen the legal brief yet, so we cannot comment at this time.”  TEI:  “We haven’t received the brief, so we will reserve official comments for now.” ENDS


派遣乗務員、地位確認求め提訴 トルコ航空など相手取り


2009.1.29 20:01









ENDS  More at:


15 comments on “Japanese stewardesses sue Turkish Airlines for discrim employment conditions


    Mitsui sued for employee discrimination

    Trading company giant Mitsui & Co., is being sued by one of
    its ex-senior directors, an American who was employed by
    the company in the U.S. for 18 years until his firing in
    2006. The ex-employee claims that he was dismissed because
    of both his nationality, his age, and because he started
    questioning the company’s alleged discriminatory practices
    towards non-Japanese. On the record he was fired for
    “irregularities” in his expense reports, but as his lawyer
    pointed out, the discrepancies in question occurred a full
    five years before the dismissal, and in between time, he
    had been acknowledged for his outstanding work for the
    firm. ***Ed: It will be interesting to see where this
    lawsuit goes. The complainant has pursued Mitsui for two
    years now and we can imagine that he is seeking substantial
    damages. 18 years doesn’t make him a simple dismissal. If
    he is successful, this will set an example for other
    ex-workers in the U.S. currently being fired to go after
    their former Japanese bosses with more vigor.** (Source:
    TT commentary from reuters.com, Feb 6, 2009)


  • The problem when the shoe is on the other foot is that the foot is still attached to a human being.

    It will be interesting to see if the Japanese court system is more discerning of the law when it comes to nationals versus foreigners.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    A 33-year-old woman who attended the press conference spoke strongly, “If there are no Japanese flight attendants in the airplane, what happens if there’s an emergency? How will Japanese passengers be attended to?”

    Huh? Japanese passengers can only be attended to by Japanese flight attendants?

    It’s not clear if this 33-year-old woman is one of the litigants or not, but I hope she’s not speaking for them officially. You can’t claim to be the victim of “discrimination by nationality” while harboring basically the exact same thoughts while going about your job.

    — Touche.

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    What I’d like to know is: were the litigants discriminated against because they are Japanese, or discriminated against because they are not Turkish (i.e. they are FOREIGNERS!)?

  • well,debito i think your response is a bit catty in that anyone who is complaining about discrimination should be supported whether they are japanese or not,but if they are dispatch workers i dont quite understand on what grounds they are filing on ..
    the problem seems to be that they are dispatch workers who are working as basically contract employees-this is a problem which affects many japanese working at japanese companies as well
    (and as we know many foreigners-english teachers etc)
    i cant see that being made illegal.so its interesting they are using the race angle to try to get their way.
    btw,do they speak turkish?i doubt it..thats one of the first tricks japanese companies pull on foreigners to deny them rights so i wonder how it works the other way round

  • Um, well, you see it is all a matter of profound CULTURAL differences. Oh yes, indeed. The Turkish way of doing this is so UNIQUE and the Turkish culture allows, why even promotes, something known as “group accountability,” a mysterious concept that all you furreners probably haven’t heard about. Or else you call it names such as racism, from which it differs greatly, though the reasons are so profound and deep I can’t explain them.

    Japanese stewardesses, who cannot even read Turkish, have no reason to complain. The idea of them demanding freedom to work on any airplane of their choice, especially to a high-class airline like Turkish Airlines, is absurd.

    It is time we admitted that at times Turkish companies have the right to discriminate against some foreigners. If they do not, and Turkey ends up like our padlocked, mutually suspicious Western societies, we will all be the losers.

    Gregarious Lark
    G.L. is the Vice President of Inaka Kusai Daigaku and pontificates regularly in various media to ignorant furreners.


    The above comment from Debito-san states that eighteen years does not make it a “simple” dismissal. Is there presently an objective definition of what constitutes a “non-simple” dismissal ? Was this person a permanent employee or hired based on a contract ? If the latter, how many times was it renewed ?
    If the former, it should be noted that if he is in the US, the situation is likely subject to state rather than US federal law, as individual state laws are usually what dictates labor conditions in the US. It should also be noted that many if not most states permit “at-will” employment, which means that an non-contract (ex. non-union) employee can be dismissed, effectively without notice, for any reason whatsoever except race and possibly one or two others, depending on the individual state.

    This is of special interest to me as I have recently been non-renewed after thirteen years.

  • After great deliberation, we have decided that these workers are not contract workers, nor are they dispatch workers. They fall into a whole other category, for which we have no name. As such, they have no rights. Wasn’t that convenient.

    (the reasoning given by Japan courts in denying foreign university instructors rights)

  • Debito wrote: “Hi Blog. Here’s something that didn’t make the English-language news anywhere, as far as Google searches show.”

    It did, by the way, make it into the English press. I read it earlier in the week or at the end of last week in the Daily Yomiuri.

    — Rats, sorry to have missed it. Pity they unpublish their archives so quickly. Thanks for letting me know. Got a copy somewhere, just for the record?


    Japanese staff “unhappy” over new Turkish Airlines rules
    Tokyo, Friday, 17 Oct. 2008 /PanOrient News

    In late August, the Japan branch of Turkish Airlines notified 18 of its Japanese cabin attendants that effective from December, the number of staff per flight would be reduced from two to one, and their duties would be restricted to language interpreting for passengers.

    The order effectively reduced the number of flights made by the attendants by half, with a corresponding drop in wages.

    The 18 are not airline personnel, but dispatched to the company from TEI, an outsourcing firm. The terms of their contract provides for 1,200 yen per hour compensation while the planes are airborne, but they do not receive any payment during preparation time on the ground.

    By industry standards the workers’ net annual income of 2.2 million yen is extremely low — roughly equivalent to a part-time employee working the night shift at a convenience store in Japan.

    Weekly Playboy (Oct. 20) quotes one of the flight attendants as saying she was forced to moonlight at a second job to make ends meet.

    The union members point out that since Turkish Airlines is currently the sole carrier with direct connections between Turkey and Japan, the route appears to be profitable.

    “About 90 percent of the passengers are older Japanese,” another flight attendant informs the magazine. “As we’re the only crew members who can communicate in Japanese, we’re forced to work flat-out for the 15-hour flight. It leaves us dog-tired.

    “And there’s a six-hour time zone difference between Turkey and Japan,” she adds. “We’re given no time to recover from jet lag between flights.”

    On September 16, 13 of the cabin attendants formed a labor union. Shuichiro Sekine, a unionist who is supporting the members, tells the magazine that Turkish Airlines needs to decide between being a second-rate carrier willing to cut corners on service and safety, or one that upholds quality by taking proper care of its workers.

    A spokesperson for the airline told the magazine the company was not prepared to comment on the union’s demands “at this time.”

    =PanOrient News

  • About the fellow in New York:

    I think it was Terrie Lloyd who originally added the editoral comment about the eighteen years.

    The poster is right that usually state law governs. But the plaintiff (Van Atten) brought a suit in federal court because he is relying on a federal anti-discrimination statute. He will have to prove that he was treated differently from other employees because of his national origin (presumably because he was American). He can do this by both, or either, direct and circumstantial evidence.

    This is 40+ year-old law and has well-settled precedents.

    The state involved, New York, also has a robust civil rights statute, so it isn’t clear why Van Atten simply didn’t make the complaint in the state administrative agency and then wait the six months before bringing suit in federal court.

    Like Debito I think mentioned here a while back, the discrimination charge must first go to an administrative agency that investigates if there is discrimination. Following the EEOC link, it points out that after six months, the charging party can then go to court if they choose.

    Contrary to what “Terrie’s Take” Terrie says, EEOC charges have been brought against Japanese companies in America for years. It’s rare that any firing means a charge, because the hard part is the even the circumstantial evidence.

    And for executives, there is the FCN Treaty defense. America and Japan have a treaty that allows each country to favor nationals from its own country for certain high-level or technical administrative positions. So Japanese can just hire Japanese in America, and Americans only Americans in Japan, for some jobs.

    Fortunately for Van Atten, the Second Circuit, where New York is located, does not apply FCN to companies that incorporated in America. It looks like Matsui did this. So it will be interesting to follow what happens if it doesn’t settle.

  • I had heard before that even if you were a contract worker companies couldn’t dismiss you without good grounds if you had been employed for over five years. Does anyone know if this is true? My co-workers and I used to count on that being true when contract renewal time was up.

    — I’m told legal precedent helps if you’re Japanese (I’ve heard of a case where somebody on a contract for 11 years was reinstated by the court after firing), but the same for NJ has been extremely problematic (judges have more often ruled that you signed the contract, you agreed to its terms and agreed to be fired). Bottom line: It’s at the discretion of the judge. Crapshoot in the judiciary.

  • Thanks for the answer, Debito.

    Personally, I hope the flight attendants come out well with their case as maybe it could help draw attention to the plight of us dispatch ALTs.

  • Debito says:

    . . . judges have more often ruled that you signed the contract, you agreed to its terms and agreed to be fired . . .

    It’s even worse, Debito. In some cases, the company is actually saying that if you signed the contract then you agreed to quit. (So no unemployment, etc.)

  • I’ll be trying to claim unemployment when I am forced out at the end of March. I’ll pass along an update on what happens if anyone is interested.

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