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Temp Nation: Fighting Panasonic

Two former "dispatch" workers at a unit of the Japanese appliance giant are suing the firm.

He thinks he was singled out for downsizing because he was the top-earning temp, and because he was outspoken about how work should be done. "Whenever I was told to do work in a way I thought was wrong, I said so," said Nagae. "Panasonic came to regard me as troublesome."

Now, Nagae wants compensation from Panasonic Ecosystems, saying he was effectively its employee. He acknowledged that a recent court judgment in favor of another Panasonic unit in a similar complaint brought by former dispatch workers was a bad sign for his own case. "But I think it's still possible to win," he said.

Nagae clearly took pride in his skills, and even complained that the dispatch company sent people to his unit who weren't up to the job. He said neither workers nor companies were well-served by the temp worker arrangements.

"As a dispatch worker, it doesn't matter how hard you work, your pay doesn't go up," said Nagae. "And there's no chance of becoming a permanent employee, so there's no incentive for doing a good job."

In a separate interview, another former dispatch worker assigned to Panasonic Ecosystems explained why he's also suing the company.

"Because Panasonic is a company that represents Japan, it shouldn't tolerate illegalities," said the 45-year-old, dressed in a button-down, vest and glasses. "It's the first time I've ever taken anyone to court."

He did not want his name used because he still lives and works in the same community as many loyal, permanent Panasonic workers.

Starting in late 2007 he also did quality control testing on ventilation equipment, in a separate unit from Nagae. He made 240,000 yen (more than $2,500) per month, and said the factory then employed about 1,000 dispatch and other temp workers, and about 500 full-timers. For dispatch workers, "there was no possibility of becoming a permanent worker," he said, and many had been kept in temp status beyond the supposed three-year time limit.

He was let go in April 2009 after the recession hit, along with hundreds of thousands of other dispatch workers across Japan. He said the dispatch firm refused to respond to his complaints about his contract, and that Panasonic keeps changing its legal argument. (At one point it argued that he was a "scientist," the worker said with a rueful laugh, and so was in a specialized category that could be employed indefinitely as dispatch labor.)