Total Victory for Zenchuro: No Choice But To Revise SOFA

The court could not possibly throw the case out. It is a landmark decision.

In a lawsuit from 176 members of the union’s Okinawa district against their employer’s country, demanding approximately ¥4.1 million, together with unpaid wages and “additional fees,” the Naha district court fully recognized the claim of the All Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union (Zenchuro), ruling it unjust that paid holidays taken for the strike were rendered as unpaid. The court ordered the United States to pay the full amount, including the “additional fees,” a civil penalty based on the Labor Standards Act. It is a total victory for Zenchuro.

Taking paid vacation days is a worker’s right, established by the Labor Standard Law. The time of year and the reason the vacation days are taken are also at the employee’s discretion. The ruling expressly recognized that the vacation days taken for the strike are “within the bounds of paid vacation, and are not unlawful.”

On the other hand, employers have the right to change the time of year that employees can take vacation days. Before the strike, the United States communicated that it could not approve of the U.S. military’s practice of not allowing vacation days without exercising its right to change the time of year for paid leave. The United States expressed concern about the U.S. military’s policy.

In the middle of the trial, the United States withdrew its claim that the U.S. military was exercising its right to change the time of year for paid leave. The U.S. will have to pay the wages, but hereafter countries that do not pay salaries will be attacked with this court ruling.

It is particularly notable that the U.S. military was included as the target of additional penalty fees. In the employment system for military base employees, the United States is the employer and the U.S. military is the employer’s “indirect employment system.” However, the judgment ruled that the United States and the U.S. military share the rights and obligations of an employer.

The United States noted that it has decided to claim for damages the additional fees from the U.S. military, and that even if the U.S. military refuses to repay, the U.S. will prevent similar situations from now on. It is delving into the utility of penalties used as a “deterrence” of the U.S. military’s misconduct.


The strike started when, in 2012, the U.S. military forcibly switched a store clerk over the age of 60 to part-time. The employee’s wages were reduced by half.

Zenchuro protested against the U.S. military, calling for it to take back its decision. However, because the military did not comply, the plaintiffs applied for paid leave and went on strike on July 13 that same year.

In response, the U.S. military announced that it would cut the wages of anyone who took paid leave on the day of the strike, regardless of whether or not they participated in it.

One could say that, “On the base, it is a kind of lawless area where Japanese and American labor laws do not apply” (Zenchuro Chairman Eizo Yonaha). There is no “Article 36” for labor and management related to overtime work, notification of changes to employment regulations, or even a safety and health committee.

Even if Zenchuro and the United States agree through collective bargaining on improvements to working conditions, they must get the U.S. military’s agreement to implement them. Isn’t worker protection the duty of a sovereign nation? I don’t understand the attitude toward the United States of a country that abandons this duty.


The U.S. military carries out labor management on the base, and even the employer’s country cannot comprehend the actual on-site working conditions. This is because, due to exclusive management rights under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, the United States cannot freely intervene.

The Status of Forces Agreement says, “the rights of workers … shall be those laid down by the legislation of Japan,” but with the condition “except as may otherwise be mutually agreed” appended beforehand.

It has become a loophole that causes inconsistencies in Japan’s labor-related laws and regulations. Of course, there is no choice but to drastically revise the Status of Forces Agreement.

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