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Commission rules convenience store owners can't bargain collectively with chain operators

Conbini Kameiten Union chairman Takanori Sakai, left, speaks at a press conference held in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on March 15, 2019. (Mainichi/Shunsuke Kamiashi)

TOKYO -- The Central Labor Relations Commission (CLRC) ruled on March 15 that a group of convenience store franchise owners do not have the right to bargain collectively with chain operators.

The CLRC reasoned that the business owners did not qualify as "workers" under the Labor Union Act but were instead independent operators. The ruling was the first of its kind by the CLRC with regard to the labor and management positions of franchise owners. In reaching its decision it dismissed former rulings by the labor relations commissions in Tokyo and Okayama Prefecture.

The Conbini Kameiten Union, comprised of members including owners of convenience store giants, and others, requested collective bargaining with two major Tokyo-based convenience store franchise chains. In 2014, the Okayama Prefectural Labor Relations Commission had judged that rejection of collective bargaining talks was an unfair labor practice and ordered Seven-Eleven Japan Co. to hold talks with the store owners. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Labor Relations Commission handed down a similar order to FamilyMart Co. in 2015. Both franchise chains filed a request for review.

The CLRC ruled that franchise owners are independent retail operators with franchise contracts and are thus not "workers" under the Labor Union Act. The decision was based on a legal prerequisite of laborers being those who provide labor under an employment contract or a similar contract and gain income. The CLRC said it was evident that the franchise owners were business operators.

At the same time, the commission recognized a gap in the negotiating power between chain operators and franchise owners and said, "Construction of a system for proper problem-solving, efforts by those concerned and consideration from the firms are desirable."

The group of franchise owners held a press conference in Tokyo after the ruling. The group announced a plan to file a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court to have the CLRC's decision countermanded.

Due to rising labor costs, the operating cost for convenience stores in the Kansai region is increasing by at least 4 million yen a year, according to Conbini Kameiten Union chairman Takanori Sakai, 58, who runs a FamilyMart store in the city of Himeji, in the western Japan prefecture of Hyogo.

In the press conference, the 58-year-old stated, "We won't be profitable unless owners themselves work on shifts, and we are in a life-threatening situation. We hope to continue requesting (collective bargaining talks) with chain operators."

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi and Akira Okubo, City News Department)

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