Train driver sues over 30p pay cut but employer claims 'it's only fair'

Sometimes the worker is wrong, sometimes it’s a genuine, if not deliberate, HR error. Either way, the issue can usually be sorted fairly quickly.

Rarely does it end up with an individual deciding to sue the employer for a perceived shortfall in remuneration.

Fined

Yet, this is exactly what happened in Japan after a train driver decided to hit back at his employer – using legal avenues – after he was docked circa £0.30 in wages.

According to BBC reporting, the shortfall came because the train company, JR West, argued that the man performed no labour during a one-minute delay to operations in June 2020.

The employee is seeking 2.2 million yen (£14,347) in damages for mental anguish caused by the ordeal.

Is there more to this case?

According to reports in Japan, the fine came after a driver mistake.

The employee was scheduled to drive an empty train to a station in the south of Japan but arrived at the wrong platform.

By the time he realised his mistake and had rushed to the correct platform, the transfer between the two drivers had been delayed by two minutes, leading to a one-minute delay in the train's departure and a one-minute delay in warehousing the train at the depot.

He was initially fined £0.55 but this was reduced after independent arbitration.

Yet the employee has refused to accept the new fine, arguing that the short delay caused no disruption to services as there were no passengers involved.

The company has defended its position saying it applied the ‘no work, no pay’ principle, implementing a fine as it would for lateness or unexplained absence.

Work culture

Within the work culture of Japanese rail, this fine – whilst shocking for UK readers – might not be so surprising.

Japanese rail is known for being reliable. In 2017, a rail company issued an apology after one of its trains left a station 20 seconds early.

And if a train delayed by more than five minutes, passengers are issued with a certificate they can use as an excuse for being late.

It can conceivably be argued that actions such as these – including fining employees for in-work tardiness – all go to forming part of a business’ consumer and employer brand.

In a culture of service delivery where punctuality is both service and the brand, showing customers what they will get and potential hires what work expectations are like is key.

Importance of brand

As Jonas Barck, Chief Marketing Officer at Universum, wrote in Forbes: “Employer branding has always been an important part of a company’s overall marketing strategy.

“Fundamentally, it’s a company’s identity, a thoughtfully-crafted mix of its vision, mission, character, culture, and personality to attract and keep potential and current employees.”

In the UK, many know this to have increased in importance, especially of late as many struggle to hire.

Writing in a LinkedIn blog on thie issue, Sarah Lybrand said: “In today’s increasingly competitive job market, a positive employer brand is critical. Without one, hiring and retaining the best employees becomes challenging — and costly.

“You need talented, leadership-bound workers to drive your business forward, and the best way to find them is to cast the impression that your company is a great place to work.

“Everything from the salary and benefit packages you offer to advancement opportunities to weekly happy hours, the culture of an organisation and the treatment of its employees can greatly impact the impression you’re trying to make on potential candidates.”

Whilst for many getting into a dispute over £0.30 with an employee might not seem like the best way to showcase the brand, it is an honest reflection of expectation and life inside the company; the flipside being it highlights that this is a brand that puts reputation with customers and work structures first.

And, if other employees have experienced work here similarly, they are at least being fair and consistent.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments...

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