Media Mix, April 3, 2016

74936543785d7ac2a36c467c3aa48c4cHere’s this week’s Media Mix about companies that lie to new graduates about job offerings. The column discusses the situation for university graduates, but the problems covered also extend to high school graduates. The 2012 NHK program I cite at length was part of a series about “youth poverty,” which also talked about similar job recruitment practices for young people who didn’t graduate from university. A lot of this stuff has been covered at length in the media with regard to lawsuits that workers have brought against former (or, in same cases, current) employers, the most notable one being that store manager who sued McDonalds for unpaid overtime.

One segment on the show was about a young man who, after graduating from high school, was hired by an “internationally known bottler” as a vending machine resupplier. He would drive from one location to another refilling vending machines, working from 5 in the morning until 10 at night. It was a contract job, and the contract contained a loophole for the company that paid him only one hour of overtime a month, even though, by his calculation, he typically worked 110 hours overtime. That’s because his contract defined his work as “sales” (eigyo), which, in Japanese work culture, is an amorphous concept since much of the work is done outside of the office. Instead of trusting the employee to honestly report how many hours he worked out in the field, the company “deems” that he worked a certain number of hours overtime and automatically pays him that amount every month. This is a common employment tactic that can cover a wide range of non-desk work, including journalism. In this young man’s case, the rationalization for this kind of pay didn’t make as much sense because he always had to bring the truck back to the office and clock out, so the company knew exactly how many hours he worked. The company said that since they couldn’t monitor the worker every minute, it was impossible to know how much of his out-of-office time he spent working. (Incidentally, a lot of delivery companies in the U.S. do monitor their drivers with IT devices that show exactly where they are at any given moment, a development that has made their jobs much more stressful) But the fact that they only paid one hour a month overtime pointed to their dishonesty over the matter.

The young man eventually committed suicide and the lawyer hired by his family to sue the company told NHK that this sort of overtime countermeasure is “an industry-wide practice,” and would only be rescinded if the workers themselves resisted. Killing yourself is the most passive-aggressive way of resisting corporate exploitation and doesn’t solve anything, but the point the program was trying to make is that the main reason the company can get away with this kind of cost-cutting is that young workers, especially those who don’t go to university, have been conditioned to think that their labor isn’t worth much. In such an environment, becoming a regular employee with benefits and a chance for advancement is beyond the pale. They just hope to achieve a measure of independence, which is understandable. Many workers don’t want to work in the kind of all-inclusive “culture” that many big companies promote in the workplace, and that’s fine. But as the old models fade away, and workers are seen as a business liability rather than an asset, they will be treated as more or less a disposable commodity.

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