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Berlitz Drags its Feet

When we last saw Berlitz, it was suing five of its instructors and two officials of the National Union of General Workers (NUGW) Tokyo Nambu for ¥110 million in damages each on the grounds that their strike was illegal and that the union was trying to damage the company.

A column in the Japan Times, however, notes that the court proceedings are going nowhere fast. Instead of pressing their case, Berlitz appears to have decided on a battle of attrition by waiting out its instructors.

Both sides appear prepared for a lengthy legal battle. After the first January court date for Berlitz's lawsuit, Ken Yoshida, one of the union's lawyers, said the company's legal team was "stalling," and that it would be a long, drawn-out court fight. So far, Yoshida's prediction seems to be proving accurate. Berlitz lawyers have been repeatedly late submitting the required documents for both their suit against striking teachers and the Labor Commission hearings. This leads to further delays because union lawyers don't have time to prepare a proper response.

According to Timothy Langley, a lawyer and president of Langley Enterprise K.K., a consultancy specializing in labor issues, such delays by company lawyers are "no big deal, the court is very lenient." He speculates that "it could be their litigation strategy."

"Who can survive this fight the longest? It isn't the employees," said Langley. "The company can survive this fight for a long time. It's one of the costs of doing business. The employees are doing it because it's their livelihood. It wears on the employees much more than on the company."

As the column notes, suing workers for an illegal strike is an attack on Article 28 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to organize and to bargain and act collectively, and would have ramifications for industrial relations across Japan. Fortunately, the law is on the side of the instructors, and Berlitz's argument that the strike is illegal is very weak.

The second hearing in the suit lasted a matter of minutes. One judge complained that after reading the company's recently filed documents he still couldn't understand their reasoning for why the strike was illegal. He told Berlitz's lawyers to provide a concise and understandable summary of their arguments before the next hearing. Looking at the crowd of union supporters in the courtroom, the judge added that the summary was necessary not only to help him understand the company's position, but also for the benefit of all those coming to hear the case.

Campbell expressed disappointment at the latest delay. "It's the dragging-on that's very frustrating. They sued in December and you'd think they would have their evidence prepared. In this case they sued and then prepared their evidence. Not only that, but they took an enormous amount of time and still haven't finished it all."

Union rep Carlet added, "It's outrageous that the company has submitted almost nothing in terms of evidence that the strike is illegal. They haven't specified where the damages are coming from. All they did was sue, and they haven't come out with anything."

Since the article compares the case to "trench warfare," I expect there will a lot casualties once this battle is over. But this is something worth fighting for. If instructors don't stand up for their rights, they will forever be stomped on by their eikaiwa employers. That said, I wonder if Berlitz isn't shooting itself in the foot with this lawsuit. Berlitz claims that the instructors intended to harm the company, but when they decided to sue their own employees, they showed everyone for what they really are: a malicious, union-busting employer.

Comments

Berlitz are definitely shooting themselves in the foot. As long as the union sees the court case out the judge will definitely through the Berlitz case out the window. The Japanese constitution says that you can strike...it's as simple as that. Berlitz is hoping that the Gaijin visas run out, or they end up leaving the company, as long as they stay they will win!

Just the same bullshit. Time and time again.

People come to Japan for a career break, gap year or whatever - they try hard and give their best for whichever company and all that happens is that they end up getting shafted.

Then when they dare to fight back all they get is grief - "you can't possbily be thinking of standing up for yourself, that's not very Japanese at all, you absurd Gaijin...." In this case, the company is actually trying to sue them.

Just makes me absolutely furious

Classic Japanese passive-aggressiveness.

This is nothing new. Whenever employees are sued by the employee, the company always moves slowly. There is nothing really to lose for the company in these situations. It's a perfect situation really because the company is an ammoral entity simply providing a service. On the other hand, the company states that the employees intentionally rendered harm to Berlitz, basically saying that these employees have serious character flaws. Logically this makes no sense. How can an ammoral entity attack the morals of the employee, especially when no evidence has been submitted? It can't, so stalling is the best option and allows for more time in which it is possible for errors to find a way into the process that they might be able to exploit them.

...Berlitz, basically saying that these employees have serious character flaws...

if you ever have the chance to meet a Berlitz employee, you would realize the irony in your statement.

definitely. definitely overuse definitely.

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