Shuukan Kinyobi/J Times: Vietnamese worker lawsuit against JITCO & Toyota-related company


Hi Blog. Another lawsuit against an employer for bad work practices. This time around, however, the plaintiffs are NJ. Let’s hope their efforts both make the labor laws more clearly enforceable, and highlight more of the problems created by treating NJ laborers as inferior. Thanks to Shuukan Kin’youbi and people at the Japan Times for bringing this to the fore. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Apocalypse now
Japan Times Sunday, April 29, 2007
Shukan Kinyobi (April 20)
Courtesy of Steve Silver

For 22-year-old Thi Kim Lien, Japan was the shining city on the hill, glistening with the promise of a better life for her family of 10 in Ho Chi Minh City. Buoyed by such hopes, she arrived in Japan in 2004.

On March 27, Shukan Kinyobi reports, Lien and five of her Vietnamese compatriots filed charges in the Nagoya District Court against the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO) and TMC, a Toyoda City-based, vehicle manufacturer that produced components on a subcontractor basis to Toyota Motor Corporation. The six demanded unpaid wages and financial compensation of some 70 million yen.

JITCO arranged to place the six as “trainees” (and later “interns”) at TMC. Their tasks involved stitching the covers onto armrests for use in vehicles produced by nearby Toyota Motor Corporation.

After having their personal seals, bank deposit books and passports taken away for “safekeeping,” the trainees were put to work at a monthly salary of 58,000 yen. They received a paltry 100 yen per hour for additional overtime work.

The six plaintiffs allege that their “training” frequently involved verbal harassment by supervisory staff. Any complaints were met with the threat of deportation, and mistakes on the job brought curses like, “You people aren’t humans, you’re animals.”

The greatest indignity, though, was that the employer posted a table outlining how many times and for how long its workers were permitted to utilize the toilets during work hours, and enforced the rule strictly. For each minute in the toilet in excess of the allotted times, they were docked 15 yen.

Besides being fined for responding to the call of nature, the six women also allege they underwent sexual harassment. One of the bosses, they claim, would “visit” their dormitory rooms at night and even slip into their futons, where he offered certain financial incentives in exchange for sexual favors.

Language training drills heaped further humiliation upon them, as they were encouraged to hone their Japanese pronunciation with such tongue twisters as “When nipples are large, the breasts are small. When the nipples are small, the breasts are large.”

“We really wanted to go back to Vietnam,” Lien says. “But we couldn’t.” It seems the trainees had posted a bond of $ 8,800 — the equivalent of six or more years of earnings in Vietnam — before leaving. Their families had borrowed to scrape together the money, which would be forfeited if they failed to fulfill their contractual obligations.

Truly, opines Shukan Kinyobi, this is a form of modern-day slavery that enables Japan to “abduct” Vietnamese.

According to TMC’s chairman Masaru Morihei, an organization called the Toyoda Technical Exchange Cooperative, comprised of 20 businesses, promoted the hiring of Vietnamese.

“We were told we could obtain low-cost labor that would address the problem of worker shortages,” he explains. “From the standpoint of a subcontractor factory at the bottom of the cost structure there was no reason for us to reject low-cost labor.”

Other firms in the area that employ Vietnamese trainees were reluctant to discuss the ongoing lawsuit. But one remarked off the record, “The only way for small subcontractors like us to survive is to hold the line on the cost of manufacturing by reducing labor costs.”

So what it comes down to is that the foreign workers who are helping to support a trillion-yen industry get penalized for responding to the call of nature. If that isn’t disgusting, huffs Shukan Kinyobi, what is?

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