Bankers of Japan: unite!

Japanese workers working for Goldman Sachs have defied norms, and established a union.
Jen Cutts

Bank workers in Japan have done the near impossible, and formed what’s assumed to be Goldman Sachs’s first-ever union, according to the Japan Times. The Goldman Sachs Japan Employee Union—a banking rarity—was launched on Feb. 23, in response to the Wall Street titan’s handling of layoffs last year.

Many large banks have cut staff in Japan due to its shaky economy, but employees objected to Goldman’s methods, saying it tried to force them to voluntarily step down as a way to work around Japan’s strict labour laws. In a culture where job loss or failure of any kind is viewed as disgraceful, employers are expected to try cost-saving measures, such as reducing overtime or executive salaries, before resorting to layoffs. Employees weren’t convinced Goldman Sachs, whose outsized bonuses routinely make headlines, had taken steps to avert widespread dismissals.

When a group of workers refused to sign the voluntary layoff agreements, Goldman began playing rough. It began claiming dismissals were for poor performance, said one employee, and denying non-Japanese workers documents they needed to stay in the country. “If Goldman Sachs had just treated us with respect,” he said, “there would have been no reason to join forces to protect ourselves.”