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Workers with unlimited contracts in Shiga Pref. seek equality with regular staff

The Osaka District Court is seen in this file photo. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- Two workers in Shiga Prefecture who switched from fixed-term to unlimited contracts filed suit on April 25 against their employer seeking labor conditions equal to those of regular employees.

"We do the same job as regular workers, so it's discriminatory to have a gap in our employment conditions," the plaintiffs stated in the complaint filed with the Osaka District Court against logistics firm Hamakyorex Co., arguing that the lower pay for part-time workers is illegal.

Under a rule that was included in the revised Labor Contracts Act, which took effect in April 2013, a non-regular employee is entitled to request a contract with no expiry date after working for the same firm for five years. People began applying for the unlimited contracts in April last year.

According to the plaintiffs, this is the first time workers who have switched to such contracts have filed a lawsuit seeking to rectify the conditions gap with regular staff.

The two men, truck drivers for the company's branch in Shiga Prefecture, western Japan, were former fixed-term contract workers and became "part-time" employees under an unlimited contract in October 2018, according to the written complaint. However, as the plaintiffs' monthly salary is about 90,000 yen less compared to regular staff, they are demanding recognition of equal status and equal pay.

Hamakyorex had included a section in their labor regulation on April 2017 explaining that employment conditions stay the same for workers who switch to an unlimited contract. But the plaintiffs insist this rule has no effect as it betrays the expectation of non-regular employees to become regular staff.

One of the plaintiffs, Masahiko Ikeda, 56, had filed a lawsuit in 2013 arguing that it is illegal to provide certain benefits to only regular workers. The Supreme Court upheld a ruling that the gap in some benefits, including commuting allowances, was irrational.

Although Ikeda works shifts just as long as regular employees, the company has not closed the wage gap. "I'm unhappy with the company making me do the same work while less pay," he stated.

Hamakyorex said it was unable to comment as it has not yet received the written complaint.

(Japanese original by Fumie Togami, Osaka City News Department)

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