"With all the fines and my having to make good on the unpaid bills run up by customers, I didn't receive any salary at all for half a year. But I accepted 3 million yen in advance wages when I started working there, so I can't quit."
The speaker, identified only as Ms A, talked to Friday (Feb 18) after the first session of a labor tribunal held at Tokyo District Court on Jan 18. She and two other hostesses had taken their case to the court after claiming their employer, a Ginza club referred to only by its first letter, Q, owed them a total of 4.3 million yen in unpaid wages.
Ms A took action after consulting the Cabaret Club Union, an affiliate of the Part-Timer, Arbiter, Free Timer and Foreign Worker Union (PAFF) based in Nishi-Shinjuku.
"I called them after seeing on the TV news that a union had been formed for workers in the 'water trade' (such as hostesses)," she says. "An attorney I knew had advised me that I had no grounds for a suit and should not proceed with the litigation."
Initially Ms A was to reimburse her 3 million yen salary advance with six monthly deductions of 500,000 yen. Since her daily wage was 46,000 yen, she anticipated that would still leave her with enough to live on for the duration.
Club Q opened in November 2009 and Ms A joined the following month. She soon found to her dismay that the club rules were stacked in favor of the house, so to speak. Over the eight months that followed, she barely received any salary at all, and what little she earned was deducted against the 3 million yen advance.
She didn't even have enough money to pay for necessary services like beauty treatments, and found herself falling deeper and deeper into debt. As her finances became desperate, last November she and two co-workers at the same club filed suit with the labor tribunal.
"Nearly all Ginza clubs levy penalties against violation of rules, and salary disputes as a result of these happen frequently," says Ms B, a veteran trooper with over 20 years experience working at Ginza. However, she added that rules per se are not necessarily bad, since they foster a relationship of mutual trust between workers and the employer. She, nonetheless, agrees that Club Q's house rules were simply too extreme.
The rule book contains 18 conditions, clearly stating that a hostess would incur fixed penalties for arriving late to work, for missing work, if unable to meet her customer quota and so on. The penalties were to be deducted from their daily wages.
For each 15 minutes of tardiness, for example, another 10% of that day's wages would be deducted. For an absence without prior notification, she would be penalized for 100% of the next day's wages as well.
"The rules in that place are unlike anywhere else in Ginza," Ms B pointed out. "R Mama, the boss, is a Shanghainese who became a naturalized Japanese. She obliged staff to abide by these severe rules, which were drawn up so arbitrarily it's like she had no idea of how Ginza club rules are supposed to work."
When Friday's reporter called R Mama for a comment, she blurted, "My lawyer will do all the talking!"
The attorney said the penalties were "justified" given the type of consignment contract between hostesses and the club. "If enough penalties add up, it stands to reason that in some cases no salary will be paid out," he told the magazine.
The next tribunal session is scheduled for Feb 22.
Ultimately A's case may have far-reaching repercussions for the vixens who toil in the Mecca of Japan's water trade. From the legal standpoint, is a hostess an "independent operator" or an "employee?" How, Friday wonders, will the tribunal eventually rule?© Japan Today