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Japan’s convenience store clerks bemoan overbearing sushi quotas

Sales quotas for ehomaki rolls are being forced on convenience store workers (Fuji News Network)
Sales quotas for ehomaki rolls are being forced on convenience store workers (Fuji News Network)

TOKYO (TR) – Most of Japan will mark the day of Setsubun, representing the start of spring, by eating a type of rolled sushi for good fortune — but convenience store clerks nationwide are bemoaning their great misfortune of overbearing quotas to sell the traditional rolls, NHK reports (Jan. 26).

Part-time workers are taking to social media in droves to bemoan the quotas for ehomaki, which are uncut sushi rolls consumed non-stop on February 3 while facing the cardinal direction considered lucky for that year.

Experts are calling for convenience store chains to stop imposing quotas on part-timers who can easily be exploited, particularly in light of reports by some workers that tens of thousands of yen are deducted from their salaries for failing to meet quotas.

Some workers have said they were “ordered to meet a quota of selling dozens of ehomaki.”

Workers speak of sales quotas for not just ehomaki rolls but Christmas cakes and osechi New Year’s boxed traditional meals every year, according to Black-Arbeit Union, a labor union that supports exploited workers.

Some cases involve several tens of thousands of yen being deducted from salaries for failing to meet quotas and having to purchase products to meet targets.

Labor expert: Violation of labor laws

Professor Mitsumo Uematsu of Hosei University, an expert in labor issues for young workers, said “deducting a quota’s worth from salaries is in violation of the Labor Standards Act.”

“Voluntarily buying products can also be seen as being forced to take on economic burden because of pressure from shops,” Uematsu said. “I urge the headquarters of convenience store chains to look into measures so quotas aren’t forced on part-timers, who can be easily exploited.”

A major convenience store chain said their respective head offices “do not enforce quotas on branches and force part-time workers to buy products because each branch independently manages its operations, despite a franchise contract being in place with headquarters.”

Kotaro Aoki, an executive committee member of Black-Arbeit Union who handles labor issues for part-time university students, said there are branches that “follow advice from the head offices of convenience store chains and prepare more stock and set high sales goals.”

“The head offices should know that this is consequently linked to the enforcement of quotas on part-timers,” Aoki said.

“I’m drowning in quotas”

“I’m drowning in quotas, first the one for cakes and now for ehomaki,” Fuji News Network (Jan. 27) quoted a netizen as saying on Twitter.

Another said they “heard the ehomaki quota is 100. 100, by one person. Dead,” and “Why does a part-timer have to cover the costs just to meet the shop’s quota, and by that I mean buying 10 rolls.”

“There have been some cases where workers were told, ‘Everyone at work is buying them, so please do the same and buy some yourself. Because this is a workplace rule,’” Aoki told Fuji News Network.

“There have even some who told us ‘20, 30 percent of my salary has disappeared this month,’” Aoki said.

Convenience stores: A “black” industry?

Using “black” as an adjective in Japan is to often refer to so-called evil companies or industries that exploit workers and typically have poor working environments.

Dentsu was most famously declared the most evil company of 2016 by an 11-member panel after the government recognized the suicide of one of its employees as karoshi, or death by overwork.

In 2015, the panel named 7-Eleven the most evil company of the year.

Head offices of convenience chains pin the blame on franchise owners, but “black part-time” practices spreading throughout the industry can be said to be the result of extreme exploitation wrought by chain owners, the panel said.

Many convenience store chains operate based on such structures, but 7-Eleven overwhelmingly takes the crown as the most evil of them all, particularly as a pioneer in establishing the franchising system for convenience stores in Japan, the panel said.