Seoul court rejects slave labor claim against Japanese firms

Of note:

South Korean court on Monday rejected a claim by dozens of World War II-era Korean factory workers and their relatives who sought compensation from 16 Japanese companies for their slave labor during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea.

The decision by the Seoul Central District Court appeared to run against landmark Supreme Court rulings in 2018 that ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced laborers.

It largely aligns with the position maintained by the Japanese government, which insists all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations between the two nations that was accompanied by hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul.

A total of 85 plaintiffs had sought a combined 8.6 billion won ($7.7 million) in damages from 16 Japanese companies, including Nippon Steel, Nissan Chemical and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The court dismissed their civil lawsuit after concluding the 1965 treaty doesn’t allow South Korean citizens to pursue legal action against the Japanese government or citizens over wartime grievances. Accepting the plaintiffs’ claim would violate international legal principles that countries cannot use domestic law as justification for failures to perform a treaty, the court said.

Some plaintiffs told reporters outside the court they planned to appeal. An emotional Lim Chul-ho, 85, the son of a deceased forced laborer, said the court made a “pathetic” decision that should have never happened.

“Are they really South Korean judges? Is this really a South Korean court?” he asked. “We don’t need a country or government that doesn’t protect its own people.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling would affect diplomacy between the estranged U.S. allies, which have faced pressure from the Biden administration to repair relations that sank to postwar lows during the Trump years over history and trade disputes.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it respects the decisions by domestic courts and is willing to engage in talks with Tokyo to find “rational” solutions that can satisfy both governments and the wartime victims.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Tokyo was carefully watching the developments in South Korea and hoping that Seoul would take a responsible action to improve ties. He said bilateral relations were still in a “severe condition” because of issues related to Korean forced laborers and wartime sex slaves.

“We believe it is important for South Korea to act responsibly to resolve the outstanding problems between the two countries and we will be watching concrete proposals by the South Korean side aimed at resolving the problems,” Kato said at a news briefing.

The plaintiffs had said the workers endured harsh conditions that caused “extreme” mental and physical pain that prevented them from resuming normal lives after they returned home at the end of the war.

The Seoul court said in its ruling that it had to consider that forcing Japanese companies to compensate the victims would cause significant “adverse reactions” for South Korea internationally.

“A forcible execution (of compensation) would violate the large constitutional principles of ensuring the safety of the country and maintaining order, and would constitute an abuse of power,” the court said, describing its ruling as an “inevitable” decision.

In April, the court issued a similar ruling on a claim by Korean victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery and their relatives, another sticking point in bilateral relations. In that ruling, the court denied their claim for compensation from Japan’s government, citing diplomatic considerations and principles of international law that grant countries immunity from the jurisdiction of foreign courts.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been strained since South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced laborers. Those rulings led to further tensions over trade when Japan placed export controls on chemicals vital to South Korea’s semiconductor industry in 2019.

Seoul accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade and threatened to terminate a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo that was a major symbol of their three-way security cooperation with Washington. South Korea eventually backed off and continued the deal after being pressured by the Trump administration, which until then seemed content to let its allies escalate their feud in public.

South Korea’s tone on Japan has softened since the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who has been stepping up efforts to bolster three-way cooperation among the countries that declined under Donald Trump’s “America first” approach, to coordinate action in the face of China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear threat.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a nationally televised speech in March said his government was eager to build “future-oriented” ties with Japan and that the countries should not allow their wartime past to hold them back.

Source: Seoul court rejects slave labor claim against Japanese firms

The federal government has a toxic workplace problem. Julie Payette is the tip of the iceberg

A bit overblown given the selection of departments, CBSA and CSC enforcement departments. A broader look at departments would indicate a range of workplaces, some better than others.

For example, 19 percent of CBSA employees reported harassment compared to 14 percent for the total public service, satisfaction with resolution, 28 percent CBSA, 35 percent public service.

For CSC, 26 percent compared to the same 14 percent, satisfaction with resolution, 30 percent compared to the same 35 percent.

For contrast, take IRCC; 11 percent, lower than the government-wide 14 percent, satisfaction with resolution, 35 percent, same as the government-wide average.

Analysing 2017-19 staffing data (hirings, promotions, separations) and it is showing a modest improvement compared to the PSC audit. Hope to get this analysis out shortly:

The federal Liberal government has a deepening workplace problem.

Despite all the promises, targets, legislation and regulations, and all the good intentions to bring equity, harmony and respect into the federal public service, things seem to have gotten worse, not better.

For years, news stories have documented harassment or “toxic” workplaces in the unlikeliest spaces, be it in the RCMP, the military or now at one of the top public offices in the country — the governor general’s.

An independent review has described a “reign of terror” at Rideau Hall under Julie Payette and her friend and top aide, Assunta Di Lorenzo.

Its conclusions were powerful enough to lead Payette and Di Lorenzo to resign last week.

And it was maddening to read, in black and white.

The report, rife with redactions to protect the confidentiality of workers who suffered their wrath, was full of adjectives to describe a nightmare work environment: “hostile,” “negative,” “poisoned.”

Employees described “walking on eggshells” and reported “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations.”

But by blacking out details of specific incidents, it missed an opportunity to do everyone in the public service — and beyond — a public service. It needed to “show, not tell” exactly what cannot be tolerated in a modern workplace.

Because clearly, people still don’t get it.

Other federal workplaces are undergoing a similar crisis.

Mark O’Neill, the president of the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum, is currently on leave, and a review of complaints of workplace harassment is reportedly complete.

The Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg issued an apology and replaced its top executive after an independent review of complaints of systemic racism, homophobia and workplace issues.

The federal auditor general in 2019 criticized two other sprawling federal departments for failing to maintain respectful workplaces.

Investigations found the Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Services Canada knew they had problems in the workplace, “yet neither organization had developed a comprehensive strategy to address them.”

“Employees feared reprisal if they made complaints of harassment, discrimination, or workplace violence against fellow employees or supervisors. They also had serious or significant concerns about a lack of civility and respect in their workplaces,” the auditor general found.

It was only on Thursday — the day after the Payette report was released — that the parliamentary public accounts committee examined that 2019 audit.

“A lot of the culture we’re seeing coming out at the governor general’s is embedded in almost every aspect of the public sector,” said NDP MP Matthew Green, “and a good snapshot of that is in CBSA and CSC.”

In the past, Ottawa has tried to effect change, usually through legislation.

In 2015, Justin Trudeau campaigned on a pledge to “take action to ensure that Parliament and federal institutions — including the public service, the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces — are workplaces free from harassment and sexual violence.”

His government passed legislation in 2018 to address harassment and violence in Bill C-65. New regulations under that law finally took effect this month.

The new law emphasizes employer accountability to prevent workplace harassment and violence. It defines harassment and violence, and expands the definition to include — as the Defence Department has informed its employees — “a full spectrum of unacceptable behaviours, ranging from teasing and bullying to sexual harassment and physical violence.”

On Thursday, by sheer coincidence, the federal Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety flagged three online training courses for all federal managers and employees on the new workplace regulations.

Too late for Rideau Hall.

The federal government has also set itself equity in employment goals using federal laws like the Employment Equity Act, yet it has failed to diversify the ranks of federal employees and managers.

An audit by the Public Service Commission published Thursday showed visible minorities, Indigenous people and people with disabilities are still not making it past the recruitment and hiring process.

Only women showed an increase in representation through hiring for the federal public service between 2016 and 2017.

The audit tracked more than 15,000 applications across 30 federal departments and agencies.

Disabled people saw the biggest drop, while among visible minority groups, Black Canadians fared worst.

It is likely the federal government wanted to get ahead of the dim picture painted by the Public Service Commission’s audit.

On Tuesday, it floated the notion of bringing in even more legislative changes to make the public service more diverse, this time through “possible amendments” to the Public Service Employment Act.

But the sad reality is, despite existing laws, even when women, visible minorities, Indigenous people and people with disabilities do succeed in getting their feet in the door, their work environments can be oppressive.

A lawsuit filed by a group of Black public service employees in December says they face systemic discrimination, racism and employee exclusion.

So far, some 400 Black public servants, current and former, have joined the effort to have a court certify the claim as a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government on behalf of 45,000 Black public servants.

Jennifer Phillips, who retired on Dec. 30 after 30 years at the Canada Revenue Agency, is one of the founding plaintiffs.

Based in Toronto, she first started working in CRA’s client services department and got only one promotion in all those years, to collections. She worked with the union to help other employees through the hiring and promotion process, and says she witnessed Black employees passed over, including herself, for jobs, while she saw others face demeaning comments. 

“I’ve seen it happen to others. It exists, but I’m one to brush things off,” she said.

It was after George Floyd’s death last spring, and a tone-deaf response by the department, that Phillips decided to mobilize with another founding plaintiff to organize the lawsuit and seek real change.

When she read about the report into Payette and Di Lorenzo’s treatment of their workers, Phillips said it all sounded very familiar, and she felt for the employees.

The prime minister, she says, owes them “a huge apology.”

“Could you imagine the mental health trauma to these individuals, of having to live it day after day, some of them keeping it to themselves before they start talking about it?”

Finally talking about toxic workplace environments is a relief, she said. “It’s like a weight off your shoulder. But you’re now second-guessing yourself — ‘Why did I take so long? Why did I let it happen?’”

Phillips said Trudeau should follow the example of U.S. President Joe Biden who, on his first day in office, said he would fire any staff member he finds showing disrespect to others. “Have a talk to all your leaders and let them know this type of behaviour is unacceptable and it will not be condoned.”

But Matthew Green, the New Democrats’ government operations critic, said the time for talk is over.

“Trudeau is big on branding and very, very short on delivery,” he said in an interview. “Time and time again, we see policies that on their face look progressive, but as soon as we scratch the surface it’s clear that they’re not actually resulting in outcomes.” 

He said if the Trudeau government “followed through on just a fraction of the promises they made to improve equity and workplace culture, we’d be a lot further along. Time and time again, reports are showing us that the culture remains, and there is zero accountability,” for what Green says is “ongoing workplace harassment and violence that’s being widely reported on.”


How to be Black at work: Andray Domise

Interesting series of anecdotes:

Last week, I spoke to a meeting of the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals, a professional association for Black people working in the financial sector. During the talk, I discussed the importance of representation in the workplace—an all-too familiar conversation for those of us in corporate environments. But I also spoke to my experience as a former financial planner and manager at a time when Black people losing their lives to police violence was becoming the stuff of weekly headlines. After the talk was over, I was approached by several Black business professionals, some of them in senior management and C-level positions, who traded stories about Blackness in the workplace at a time of resistance. The consensus was, despite the money and resources that many companies pour into diversity training, the corporate world doesn’t appear ready for this conversation.

I reached out to other Black professionals to share their stories, and the result, while unsurprising, was disheartening. “It’s very subtle, a lot of it is unspoken stuff,” said David, a sales manager. “In a team huddle environment, you normally talk about current events, just to break the ice. But in one huddle, the subject of police brutality came up, and some members of my team were so uncomfortable with that conversation, they put their heads down.”

 He said he felt isolated. “What I got from it was that people in the room felt uncomfortable, because they didn’t feel the way I did about it. There’s nobody to talk to about it, and there’s definitely no one on my level bringing it up.” Normally, he told me, going to work the day after reading about another Black person executed by police is manageable. But when he saw the video of Philando Castile dying in the passenger seat of his vehicle in Minnesota, it took him a week to regain his focus in the workplace. “You have to protect yourself, and know who really stands with you,” he said. “So I was also trying to gauge how other people felt about it, and whether I’d be able to look at them the same way after that.”

Another woman, Melanie, talked about treading carefully around discussions of Black lives in the workplace, even as other causes are openly embraced. “We need to not feel that we’re making a career-limiting move by talking about these things that affect us. We have Breastober and Movember, but we can’t talk about bias and racism in the workplace, or in our daily lives.” It was an interesting point, given the renewed attention the psychology community is paying to the toll that racism and micro-aggressions have on the psychological health of Black people. She explained that, in a previous position, a superior heard about her Jamaican background. To break the ice, he asked her if she could score weed for him. “We have such a long way to go,” she said. “But there’s no one to talk to about it. A white, male executive might see how his daughter, or his gay son could impacted by discrimination, and say, ‘I don’t want them to go through this,’ and make some changes. But unless some benevolent actor sees how Black people are affected in the workplace, nothing will happen.”

Sometimes, the challenge in the workplace doesn’t come from superiors, but from peers, company partners, and those lower on the pay scale. When I spoke with Vivian, a white-collar manager working with mostly blue-collar employees, she told me colleagues and subordinates would often bring up the protests by the Black Lives Matter Toronto—but only to heap scorn. “There’s just no understanding of why we give a s–t,” she told me. “I’d hear it all around the workplace. ‘Why are these Black Lives Matter people demonstrating here? All of this stuff that’s happening is in the States.’ ” As the only Black woman manager in a building with over 1,400 employees, she told me that she felt walled-off in a workplace where the conversation around Black lives barely registered. “You listen to people’s stories about their cats, and their cottages. And I’m thinking, ‘Yeah? Because I spent the weekend writing articles and speaking on panels about people f–king dying. Tell me more about your cat.’”

Vivian likened the experience in the workplace to her experience as a sex abuse survivor. “For many years, I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t disclose. But every day that I had it in me and couldn’t talk about it, or get it out, it felt like another traumatic day.” Vivian explained that, for a long time, the trauma of the incident left her vulnerable to being triggered by seeing or hearing things that reminded her of the abuse, but she couldn’t express to her friends or family what the problem was, for fear of having to defend herself, and relive the trauma. “That’s how it feels, going to work as a Black person in this climate right now,” she said.

Though Black people working in the corporate world are not usually the ones on the front lines of protest, all of us are dealing with the movement in our own way. Some of us donate to Black Lives Matter, some attend community consultations with police and local government, and some offer mentorship and support to our youth. But the dual nature of the workplace environment, where Black people face pressures from the community to create pathways, and from the white-dominated corporate world to maintain the status quo or face career-limiting consequences, leaves many of us without a way to make meaningful change. Perhaps that’s why the central conceit of #Missing24 was so flawed. In the workplace, where we’ve had to outshine our peers in order to simply be included, we can’t afford to go missing. The only way to make our presence felt is by having more of us show up.

Source: How to be Black at work –

“Hidden” opportunity for organizations to build more diverse teams

Good piece by RBC and Ernst & Young on unconscious bias in organizations and how this affects staff development. Summary of recommendations:

The report suggests some of the following questions for leaders to ask themselves to help identify unintentional biases:

  • Who do I take to important client or cross-team meetings?
  • Who do I encourage to lead or speak out at meetings? Am I creating opportunities for those less extroverted to demonstrate their capabilities equally to clients or other colleagues?
  • Do I typically hire the same type of person, or personality type?
  • When I say a candidate is not the right “fit”, what do I mean? – RBC – Media Newsroom.