Fixing the way Americans are cheated in the Japan pension system.

On this topic from the other day.

I realize that many of the players on this issue have made like it is so difficult to get a resolution about the Shakai Hoken (Japanese pension and health care issue). But the matter is really very easy. “Many hands make small work.”

As you know, I generally support the General Union people, but I don’t think much of their strategies or their strategizing. It seems to be based on employer/employee conflict, and sending people down avenues of effort that don’t yield very much in the end.

Most people–myself included–shy away from that sort of conflict. It’s the kind you end up at only when pushed to the wall, and crappy job situations aren’t the kind that get you to the wall. I am a much more firm believer in the idea of leveraging each person’s unique talents and ability to carry part of the load. That’s how you get something done.

Although the GU side (Tozen in Tokyo) have portrayed the Shakai Hoken situation as an employer-employee one, I think it’s more appropriately looked at as an American-Japanese one, in the totalization treaty context. If you aren’t an American, just fill in your country’s name on the right side of the dash.

Not enough people have made enough of a, well–stink–with their State Departments back in their home countries about the fact that the Japanese government has been ignoring the issue when it comes to treaty-partner citizens working in Japan.

You can’t really solve the problem from Japan. You have no leverage there. The problem has to be solved through agents back home.

If the Japanese are setting up employment situations (and the bid-ask of the ALT arrangement is Exhibit A), where the process discourages enrollment in Shakai Hoken, it’s not the dispatch employer’s fault. It’s the fault of the Japanese Education Ministry systematically denying Americans this valuable coverage, which the Japanese had previously agreed to by treaty, in 2004.

Do you see? The dispatch employer is entirely taken out of it; and furthermore, the kind-of old conflict about ALT vs. Union is also taken out of it. It is put at the simple fact that the Japanese are, basically, trying to cheat citizens of treaty partners.

If the excuse were ever to arise about how the employee is required to pay kokumin nenkin and also the national health insurance, that is quickly put down by the fact that there is a bid system for ALT contracts, where the Japanese ministry is not policing those who underbid for the contract. If you could get contracts in America by evading the social security or FICA tax, as a[n] employer bidding on contracts, you’d do it. The problem is that, in America, you’d go to jail as that same employer or pay a heavy fine for tax evasion. In Japan, it’s just another day.

People such as Chris Savoie have a lot to [be] learn[ed] from, on the simple fact of addressing a problem, even if you disagree strongly–and I know some of you do–about the specific tactics. A bilateral issue does not get addressed unless and until it is brought out of the shadows.

Right now, the problem of pension non-coverage is in the shadows, and the victims are made to feel like it would be money out of their own pockets if they wanted to do something about it.

But, if instead, it’s a matter of contacting the State Department, and starting to finger the processes themselves, not the players like the dispatch employers, it moves the problem out of the shadows and into the light.

It is a slow and steady process, and one where “many hands make light work.” You don’t have to declare a union membership or stand out in front of a company and chant slogans. Even more, you can wait for your contract to end, and do it all from the “safety” of America.

The basic point is that you were an American who worked in Japan, and you got screwed out of social security coverage because of a system that the Japanese set up to, basically, get themselves out of the treaty bargain.

There are a sizable number of people in America who don’t think much of Japan. We happen to know that there are a lot of wonderful people in Japan; but, as a practical matter, the average American is not as sympathetic unless there is tragedy involved like the one late this winter. (March 11 disasters.)

When Japan can be shown to be screwing us, you can get quite a good reception. It won’t be coming from internet posts, but from paper letter and from face-to-face. You simply need to ask, that if we have a treaty with Japan on social security, why were you not covered by your employer when you worked in Japan?

It’s cumulative. The more Americans sent over, and the more this happens to, then the more of a constituency exists.

I am always happy to hear from you on the issues that you know I take particular care in.

[Update: I have been calling this a social security treaty, but it’s been pointed out to me that it’s officially an “Agreement”. It seems to work the same as a treaty, though, and I wonder if, ehem, “officially”, it isn’t a modification of terms in another bona fide treaty. Either way, it is something the Japanese have been dodging–with help from less-than-honorable Americans–and is something that is crying out to become an issue. Better sooner than later.]

[Update #2: I am still certain that the Agreement is somehow tied to a Treaty. It may not be its own stand-alone pension treaty, but it is considered part of some more weighty treaty–probably the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation, or FCN. That bottom line is, it isn’t something that one side can just unilaterly blow off. It’s clear that that is what the Japanese are doing, though.]

[Update #3: Ah, here it is! It is Section 233 of the Social Security Act, added in 1977. It allows the executive branch (the Administration) to negotiate totalization agreements, which are then effective unless Congress votes that they not be. There are guidelines to what the totalization agreement has to provide Americans, PRs, and others who normally reside here.

In a way, it’s good it’s not a treaty. Because there must then be some easier mechanism for the U.S. to cut off the money going from our side to the country that is in breach (Japan).]

[Update 9/15/12: I know I have linked this elsewhere on my site, but the Social Security Administration does report how many Japanese are benefitting from U.S. Social Security per the totalization agreement. (I.e., not those who get the benefit on 40 credits.) It was 32,607 as of the end of 2010 — way more, likely, than Americans benefitting from the Japanese system.]

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