Japanese firm loses South Korean war labour appeal

Seoul’s President Moon Jae-in this week said Tokyo should take a ‘more humble’ attitude to history. — Reuters pic
Seoul’s President Moon Jae-in this week said Tokyo should take a ‘more humble’ attitude to history. — Reuters pic

SEOUL, Jan 11 — A Seoul court today dismissed a Japanese industrial firm’s appeal against an order that it pay a South Korean man 50 million won (RM183,450) for forced wartime labour, the latest in a series of court rulings to strain ties between the neighbours.

South Korea and its former colonial power Japan are both US allies who have to contend with nuclear-armed North Korea and a rising China.

But their relationship is soured by issues of past history, including Koreans forced to work at Japanese firms’ factories during World War II, and a territorial row over Seoul-controlled islets also claimed by Japan.

South Korean courts have made a series of orders against Japanese firms, and Seoul’s President Moon Jae-in this week said Tokyo should take a “more humble” attitude to history.

The latest ruling came in the case of a 95-year-old South Korean man surnamed Lee, who claimed in 2012 that he had worked at a Hitachi Zosen shipyard and other locations with no pay for about a year.

Hitachi Zosen was formerly a shipbuilder associated with the giant Hitachi Group, but is now focused on environmental equipment and incinerators.

In 2014 a Seoul court ordered Hitachi Zosen to pay Lee 50 million won in unpaid wages and compensation for emotional distress.

The company appealed, but the Seoul High Court upheld the original ruling today, saying the award was not excessively high.

Japan says the victims’ right to sue was extinguished by the 1965 treaty which saw Seoul and Tokyo restore diplomatic ties and included a reparation package of about US$800 million in grants and cheap loans.

But South Korean courts made a series of recent rulings holding private Japanese businesses responsible for forced labour.

South Korea’s top court in November ordered Japanese giant Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay 80 million to 150 million won to two separate groups of 11 people for forced wartime labour at its plants.

Another court earlier this month ordered the seizure of South Korean assets owned by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal in a case involving former wartime labourers or their families, prompting condemnation by Tokyo. — Reuters   

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