Legal dispute in Japan: Train driver gets 40 cents back

Status: 04/19/2022 3:42 PM

Because a train driver in Japan parked the train a minute late, his employer reduced his pay by 40 cents. The person complained about this. He gets the money back, but he does not get better working conditions.

By Thorsten Ifland, ARD Studio Tokyo

Traveling by train in Japan is an experience. For example, the Shinkansen, the ICE of Japan, is a nation’s pride. When one of these long-nosed futuristic trains arrives at its terminus, it stands exactly twelve minutes.

Five minutes are counted for boarding and alighting, seven for cleaning. The cleaning crew has exactly twelve seconds per row of seats before everything is cleared. It’s a fascinating spectacle for a delay-stricken German train driver.

the goal is to be precise to the other

Of course, this strict program, this discipline, also applies to train drivers: “In Japan, train drivers are trained to control trains in minutes or seconds,” explains the general secretary of the West Japan Railway Workers’ Union, Makoto Makawa. “It’s also a matter of course for them during their years of service. They try to drive on time and strictly meet these expectations.”

Hirofumi Wada followed exactly this principle during his 40 years with the West Japan Railway Company (JR West). In western Japan province until that fateful morning of June 2020.

Wada had to take a missed train to the depot. But he was waiting for the empty train on the wrong platform. It took him two minutes to find the mistake. The handover with the other engine driver was accordingly delayed.

Wada got another minute

The unlucky fellow hurried, accelerated, caught a minute late, but still reached the depot a minute late. Then the employer said: no work, no wages – and in the end deducted about 40 cents from his salary.

“Japanese railways try very hard to be punctual, and I think the public expects the same,” says attorney Akane Nishiyama. “But the question is, if train drivers don’t do this, can their work be considered non-work?” Nishiyama represents Wada, the train driver who filed a lawsuit against the pay cut.

The plaintiff is less concerned with 40 cents per and more with permanent changes in corporate culture. A few seconds late and you have to attend so-called disciplinary training: cleaning trains, writing letters of apology. Shameful behavior towards employees.

driver under pressure

The disaster struck back in 2005, due to pressure to reroute trains to their destinations. To compensate for the delay, a train driver drove too fast into the curve. The train derailed, killing more than 100 people: “If there is a delay, it may cause the driver to be impatient or drive inappropriately to make up for the delay,” said Mekawa, a trade unionist.

Wada said the same thing. “To prevent this from happening in the future, WADA intends to use this lawsuit to create an environment in which drivers can operate properly without pressure and stress.”

WADA did not succeed. He was right, JR West would have to pay him back 40 percent of his salary. But the company does not have to pay the required approximately 15,000 euros in damages or legal fees. This decision will hardly prompt the railway company to rethink the way it treats its employees. The battle of Hirofumi Wada went in vain.

Rule in bizarre train strike – West Japan Railway must return 40 cents

Thorsten Ifland, ARD Tokyo, April 19, 2022 2:48 pm


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