In July, eleven Japanese security guards at the U.S. military’s Yokosuka naval base (Yokosuka) were made to participate in a training exercise in which they were pepper sprayed in the face. The incident made them wonder why private citizens must participate in such training and how much more will be demanded of them in the future. In addition to the pepper spray training, some Japanese workers at the U.S. bases in the Kanagawa Prefecture have been required to undergo anti-terrorism training similar to that required for the U.S. servicemen. An expert pointed out, “It is problematic to apply the American military logic to the Japanese guards, who are, above all, civilians.”
Thirteen Japanese guards were scheduled to take part in the training using “OC spray” for self-defense. The training was conducted with one guard on July 9, six on July 17, three on July 20, and one on July 24. The remaining two are likely to undergo the same training later.
There were no serious injuries reported this time, although the Japanese participants were upset that even the receipt of only a few drops of pepper spray felt like getting burnt and their eyes hurt for 36 hours afterwards.
On behalf of the guards, the All Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union (Zenchuro) and the Ministry of Defense, the direct employer of the Japanese guards, requested the U.S. military change the training but to no avail. Now the guards are voicing strong concerns about future training and deep apprehension about why private citizens should require such training. They are calling on the defense ministry to take their side and protect their human rights, and asking the U.S. military to abide by labor laws.
Accidents were reported with regard to the pepper spray training in the past. A Japanese guard in Yokosuka temporarily suffered breathing difficulty during the training and was carried away by an ambulance. Another guard at a different base in the prefecture sustained an eye injury that took one month or so to heal.
Concerns are also mounting over training exercises at Atsugi naval base, where training of the Japanese guards involves, in addition to pepper spray training, shooting practice against terrorist attack.
Reportedly, the number of servicemen on the Atsugi base was recently reduced due to transfer of aircraft deployed to carriers to the U.S. base in Iwakuni (Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture), in accordance with the realignment of the U.S. military stationed in Japan. People associated with Sagamino branch of Zenchuro expressed concern that the Japanese guards and the U.S. military are currently operating as one to compensate for the smaller number of guards assigned to Atsugi base.
The Japanese guards working at Atsugi base are voicing complaints: “We are going through severe training exercises fit for the military,” and “We are worried that in case of a contingency, we may be instructed to shoot our guns.”
Article 12 of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) states that Japanese laws apply to wages and other compensation, employment and labor conditions, worker protection, and workers’ rights. Therefore, the U.S. military, as the receiver of the guards’ service, has an obligation to give consideration to safety under the Labor Contracts Act.
Okinawa University professor Kibihiko Haruta, who is familiar with labor issues on U.S. military bases in Japan, stressed, “The U.S. military should adhere to Japanese labor laws.”
Haruta explains that as the direct employer of the Japanese guards, the Ministry of Defense also has the obligation to consider safety. However, because of the U.S. exclusive rights to manage bases, which is stated in the Article 3 of the SOFA, defense ministry officials require the U.S. military’s permission to enter bases, making it hard for them to monitor the labor conditions of the Japanese workers.
The ministry’s South Kanto Defense Bureau requested permission for officials to enter Yokosuka base to observe the pepper spray training and ensure its safety. But permission was not granted and the training was conducted. (Abridged)