Published: 21/02/2007

The following is an excerpt from the interview with Brother Tatsuya Matsumoto, Tokyu Tourist Trade Union, a member union of the IUF-affiliated Service Tourism Rengo, in the article of Hiroba Union 2006 January issue.

The case of Tokyu Tourist Corporation

In March 2004, the shares of ”Tokyu Tourist Corporation” were sold by its parent company, and an investment fund “Active Investment Partners” became its major shareholder.

Before the acquisition, Tokyu Tourist, under the umbrella of Tokyu Group, had gone through every possible degradation of the working conditions. So in a way the sales of the shares was already prepared, and it is probably why the transfer to the new shareholder of the investment fund was carried out rather smoothly in March 2004.

The acquisition by Active was strictly kept confidential until the day before, and there was no way of knowing it for the labour union. The president called me on the day before and told me to come see him. It was then we were confided with this acquisition. On the following day, the official announcement of the acquisition was made public.

On that day the union called for a collective bargaining, in which we confirmed that the collective agreement and working conditions would remain as they were. In other words, nothing would change except for that of the major shareholder.

However Active ignored the union and as no dialogue was realised, it lead to a conflict between Active and the union and Active started to regard the union as an enemy. In December 2004, a company-lead employees association was founded, and the company launched typical unfair labour practice. For example the company insisted that we have to withdraw from the union membership and join the employees association if we hope to receive bonuses.

In order to tackle these attacks by the company, we filed for a relief to the Tokyo Labour Relations Commission, and also took to court. Three cases of the union suing the company, and one case of the company suing the union. At that time I spent most of the time going back and forth between the Tokyo Labour Relations Commission and the court.

During this time, we received support from everyone and all-out backup from the Rengo. In November 2005, the company and the union settled the matter out of court by dismissing the mutual lawsuits in pursuit of building a new industrial relation.

But we still have many issues to solve. The biggest one is to get previous members who left for the Employees Association back to the union. There are about 1600 eligible union members, and the union’s organising ratio has just exceeded that of the Employees Association, and hope to further increase it.

As mentioned earlier, all the terms and conditions of the collective agreement were to remain the same as before, but Active tore up the bonus provision table completely. In the spring offensive 2004, it was decided that the summer bonus was to be provided in June, but Active decided to pay no bonus. In addition, the company concluded that it provides a bonus only once in the second half of the year and the amount is to be determined in accordance with business performance of the firm. Furthermore the company discarded the employee performance evaluation system. These changes were followed by series of unfair labour practice such as unfaithful negotiations and intervention by establishing the Employees Association. The company made an inexcusable decision that the bonus would be provided only once a year and only to those members of the Employees Association.

As for the unpaid bonus in 2004, thanks to the cooperation by various organisations and people, in June 2005 we could come to a basic agreement with the company to explore a solution, resulted in provision of the bonus after 5 months. However the amounts of bonuses are determined in a foreign company manner, and there is a big gap in amounts between the most paid and the least paid in accordance to the performance. Though the company does not disclose figures of bonuses, we presume the highest level is about 18 times more than the lowest one.

With regards to monthly wages, since April 2005 the company has unfairly started to pay 2000 yen less to the union members than those members of the Employees Association. The aim is obvious. They are trying to lure employees into the Employees Association. But this difference was paid off in the wages of June 2005, so at this stage, the problems with the wage and bonus have been solved.

Apparently Active did not intend to make decisions through talks with the union. Every time we requested a meeting to the company, they kept refusing. When an investment firm selects a company as its investment target, it conducts a thorough research of the target. This is called “due diligence” in a technical term, and it means to investigate all elements affecting business performance when determining an implementation of investment. Active probably collected information regarding not only the financial situation of the company but also the union, and in our case we presume that they decided that the union was an “impeding element” to the restructuring our company.

It seems, however, that the investment fund ended up taking more time in restructuring the company than they should have as it was spending time for union busting. For an investment fund, this is a poor conduct in terms of value of time, wasting time that way.

In Japan all decisions including wages and working conditions were made through negotiations between the union and the employer. In other words, it was entrusted to the labour-management autonomy. So who is an “employer”? An investment firm, one day, comes and acquires a majority of the company’s shares. According to a general understanding of the union law, an investment firm is a shareholder, not an employer. An employer is a company, and the counterpart of negotiations with a union is also a company. However in reality, it is controlled by an investment firm, and a company is left with only limited authorisation. In short, a company cannot exert the authorization as an employer. Through the industrial dispute we experienced, we found it so meaningless to negotiate and discuss with the company under such a circumstance.

One day a “foreign ship” arrives, and a totally different management appears. In the face of the decision whether the new management would recognise a union as its partner or not, it is crucial that a union must be well prepared. First of all, we must keep all the contents of discussions with the company in writing for confirmation. Secondly, the solidarity among union members must be reinforced at all times. We had a very severe experience with losing membership when the company took our members away by setting up an employees association. But we managed to cope with the situation by knowing how the company was dealing with the situation. The reason why we were able to do so is because the union members provided valuable information from worksite. For instance the company is making this move, a manager was saying that, and so on.

In this respect we could assure ourselves that the origin of the union activities stems from the voices of members and information at the workplace reaching the union.