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New job sites charging small firms sky-high listing fees after short free periods

A job ad site listing contract sent to a pharmacy in Saga Prefecture by the site operator is seen in this partially modified image. The contract states that it can only be cancelled within three weeks of signing, and only in writing. Failure to do so would result in the pharmacy being charged. (Mainichi)

FUKUOKA -- There is a growing number of complaints across Japan about job ad sites that offer employers free postings, and inform them soon after that their free period has expired and send a bill for exorbitant sums.

More than 150 attorneys have been consulted over the problem, it has been learned. The job listing sites are apparently targeting smaller firms worried about securing enough staff amid Japan's labor shortage, and lawyers are cautioning the cases that have come to light so far are "just the tip of the iceberg."

There are a number of large, well-known employment websites in Japan run by major job placement and other firms. However, there is also a growing legion of new job sites popping up on the web which appear to be behind the wave of complaints about ambush-style fees.

According to Yuji Takara, a lawyer and member of the Okinawa Bar Association tackling the practice, over 200 attorneys nationwide joined an information-sharing committee on the problem when he set it up on May 17. Of those, about 150 said they had already been consulted by job posters or argued the fee cases in civil court, with many of the lawyers having dealt with multiple inquiries. Takara believes that added up, the group has seen hundreds of cases so far handled by these 150 lawyers.

The employers seeking legal help have said that the offers of free job site postings come by telephone. Two to three weeks after agreeing to post a free listing, the firms have stated, they get an invoice from the site operator demanding hundreds of thousands of yen for "automatic account renewal fees" because they "did not notify the site operator that they would discontinue the postings before the renewal deadline." The number of cases apparently rose suddenly starting last autumn.

Claimants have told attorneys that the site operators never told them of any automatic renewal, or that contract cancellation documents were delivered just before the stated cutoff, among other complaints. Many of the employers have paid the exorbitant charges, or been taken to court by the job site operators for refusing to do so. In one case, a business was billed a total of 2 million yen (about $18,400) or more for ads for several openings.

About 20 problem website operators have been identified, with most of them in operation for less than a year, according to company registrations seen by the Mainichi Shimbun. There was even one firm that listed capital of a single yen -- less than one cent.

"This malignant technique is used to target small firms short of workers," said Takara. "There are likely many businesses that just give in and pay."

A number of the job site operators contacted by the Mainichi defended the fees, saying that the job ad contracts clearly state that charges will be leveed if the client does not cancel within a certain period.

A representative of the Association of Job Information of Japan, an industry body, advised job posters to "carefully check contracts to confirm how long a free period lasts and other details, and consult an attorney if invoiced for a large sum."

(Japanese original by Keisuke Muneoka, Fukuoka News Department)

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