Hirofumi Wada's employer argued he didn't work during that one minute delay, thus docking his pay by 45 cents. Photo: Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images (left); Courtesy of West Japan Railway Workers Union
A Japanese train driver who accused his employer of unfairly deducting his pay after he caused a one-minute delay in service has won his case in court and will be paid back 56 yen—or 45 cents—in wages, although the ruling came weeks after he died of illness.Hirofumi Wada, who worked for West Japan Railway, was supposed to drive an empty train into a depot in June 2020. But he accidentally went to the wrong platform and started driving the train one minute later than scheduled, causing a delay in the train’s departure. His employer argued he didn’t work during that one minute and docked his pay.
On Tuesday, a year after Wada sued the railway operator, the district court in the southern prefecture of Okayama ruled in favor of him and ordered West Japan Railway to return the 45 cents in reduced pay to the driver, who died on April 3 of an unspecified ailment at the age of 59. It dismissed Wada’s additional claim of 2.2 million yen ($17,108) in compensation for emotional distress.Japanese train companies pride themselves in punctuality, but they’re also known for having severe working conditions. Labor unions celebrated the former driver’s win and see the ruling as a step in improving labor rights. “It was very clear Wada was still working during that one disputed minute,” Goto Maekawa, the general secretary for West Japan Railway Workers Union, told VICE World News. Maekawa said that though being a minute late doesn’t seem like a big deal, enforcing punctuality with such strictness was a way for train companies to control their employees. “It’s a way to constantly watch your employees, and if they make a mistake, they’d carry out pretty severe punishments, like pay cuts or layoffs, even make you write reports to say you’ll never make that mistake again,” he said. “Over time, it causes a lot of mental distress for employees because they’re so afraid of making a mistake,” he said. Such intense working conditions have not only created a climate of fear but have inadvertently led to safety incidents.
In May, a Japanese train driver temporarily left the vehicle’s cockpit for a three-minute bathroom break because he had stomach pains and couldn’t bring himself to stop the train before going to the bathroom, as guidelines recommend, because he wanted to arrive on time. He was disciplined for that action.In 2005, a speeding West Japan Railway train derailed and rammed into a residential tower in southern Hyogo prefecture, killing 105 people. Investigations found that the 23-year-old driver, who was also killed in the crash, was likely going over the speed limit on a curve because he was running late. Before the accident, he had been disciplined twice for running behind schedule.Though the financial compensation wasn’t much, Maekawa said this case wasn’t about the money. “Before Wada passed, he often said that he was going to court over this for his kouhai (junior employees),” he said. “He wanted his case to improve the working environments for younger generations,” he said. Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.