What's the Beef? Strike Call at Japanese Fast Food Chain Sukiya

Screenshot of video uploaded by LaborNet Japan on YouTube.

Screenshot of video uploaded by LaborNet Japan on YouTube.

On the heels of global protests demanding fair pay and better working conditions for fast food workers, unconfirmed reports on Twitter said employees at Japanese fast- food chain Sukiya were going on strike.

Sukiya, a Japanese restaurant chain run by Zensho Holdings, is famous for its cheap, tasty gyūdon or beef rice bowl. The company's slogan is “save time and money”. It has been plagued by reports of poor working conditions because of its “one-man operation”, with 28 stores closing business due to a shortage of workers. The company objected to earlier news reports claiming that a much larger number of their stores were closed. From Zensho's website [ja]:


There have been some news reports with the headline, “184 stores closed due to insufficient human resources”. However, these 184 stores are closed due to the following reasons: 156 for renovating the store [kitchen facilities], and only 28 are closed due to labor shortage.”

According to unconfirmed reports [ja] on the Internet, workers in some Sukiya stores were going to strike on May 29, 2014. Japanese pronunciation of the number 29 can alternately refer to “meat”. Part-time workers and labor activists used the hashtag #すき家ストライキ (#stirkeonSukiya) on this “day of meat” to take action against Sukiya.

Twitter user @Artanejp uploaded a photo showing a note attached to the front door of one store that reads, “We are closed from 6 AM to 10 AM due to insufficient labor power.” The photo was widely shared on the Internet, and the hashtag became viral. Even conventional newspapers like Asahi Shimbun are keeping their eyes on the prize [ja], asking users to submit information.

Looks like they are really on strike. Much respect. @Artanejp: All the Sukiya stores in Tsuchiura area [Ibaraki prefecture] seem to be out of business LOL #StrikeonSukiya

However, other users reported seeing stores operating normally, so it isn't clear if the photos circulating online are due to strikes.

Two weeks ago, fast food workers protested for similar reasons. Labornet Japan, a network of activists and citizens defending rights of workers, posted a video about activities in Tokyo linked to global actions for fast food workers. Labornet writes:

 On May 15, 2014, there were simultaneous global actions in thirty-five countries to demand respect for fast food workers’ rights and fair wages to them. In Japan, the action was organized mainly by the Tokyo Young Contingent Workers’ Union, and the participants walked through a fashionable street in the Shibuya district in central Tokyo. They said, “We don’t need to work overtime and can afford to enjoy dinner or dating with 1,500 yen an hour”. The action got a positive reaction from people working in the district. They told me about their hourly wages, “950 yen”, “1,100 yen” and “1,200 yen” [each equivalent of 9.3 USD, 10.8USD, 11.8USD], all of which are still low. In front of a Sukiya beef bowl shop and a McDonald’s, the demonstrators demanded fair wages of minimum 1,500 yen an hour, showing placards written in Japanese, English and Spanish. Many media outlets covered the action.

Earlier in May, Zensho Holdings announced [ja] it was creating a third-party committee to improve working conditions. The labor union in Chiba prefecture called a strike [ja] over their demands. Zensho Union for Part-Timers has condemned the strike [ja] as being unlawful and urged part-time workers not to participate.

With the visibility of the hashtag and the buzz surrounding the unconfirmed reports online, it appears these strikes and the bad reputation of Sukiya are becoming larger than life.

I went to one of the Sukiya nearby in Tokyo's Minato-ward in the afternoon on May 29. It was open.
[Correction] “loss” switched to “shortage” in the translation quotes.


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