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Tokyo subway contract worker protests forced retirement due to coronavirus

Ryoko Ushiro is seen with a piece of paper saying, "I'll lose my job at the end of March," placed over her uniform while working at a souvenir shop at a Tokyo subway station on March 27, 2020. (Mainichi/Satoshi Tokairin)

TOKYO -- A 65-year-old woman working at a souvenir shop at a Tokyo subway station has been protesting her forced retirement by her employer at the end of March due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

    Her employer had previously continued to hire non-regular workers beyond the mandatory retirement age of 65 if they wished. However, the company explained that it cannot do the same for the woman, Ryoko Ushiro, and others beyond the end of March, citing fears that the impact of the spread of the new coronavirus on its business performance is unpredictable.

    Ushiro is at a loss about how to make ends meet saying, "I wonder what I should do beyond this month."

    Since March 26, Ushiro has placed a piece of paper over her uniform that says, "The company is trying to cut expenses due to the coronavirus. I'll lose my job at the end of March."

    Ushiro has been working at the souvenir shop at Hatchobori Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line for 13 years as a contract-based employee.

    Dissatisfied with differences in wages, bonuses and retirement benefits between full-time and non-regular workers, Ushiro founded a labor union with her co-workers in an effort to improve working conditions for non-regular employees.

    The union demanded that the company allow employees to continue working beyond the mandatory retirement age of 65 if they wish, and the management agreed to keep such workers on its payroll as "registered employees."

    During a March 23 collective bargaining session, the union also asked that the company continue to employ Ushiro and other non-regular workers who were to shortly reach the retirement age.

    However, the management dismissed the demand saying, "The impact of the spread of the coronavirus infections (on the business) is unpredictable. It's a serious situation. We need to slash personnel and other expenses."

    When asked by the Mainichi Shimbun to comment on the matter, a company official said, "The mandatory retirement age for full-time employees is set at 65. We apply the same system to contract-based employees."

    Ushiro expressed mixed feelings about the situation she faces. "I'm just angry at the company, but I would like to express my appreciation to customers."

    Customers who saw the piece of paper explaining she'll lose her job have asked her questions such as "Are you alright?" or "Are you on strike?"

    Ushiro has also placed a piece of paper on her back with a message reading, "Thank you for supporting me for 13 years," since March 26, and intends to work hard until March 30 -- her last day at work.

    (Japanese original by Satoshi Tokairin, City News Department)

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