Directly Hired ALT? Ready For The 2020 Punch?

Are you an Assistant Language Teacher who is directly employed by a municipal board of education?

If you are, we'd suggest that you pay attention to this article and even consider consulting with the union.

As you may know, the General Union has had dealings with various boards of education acros Japan - both now and in the past.

We currently have members who are directly hired ALTs at thirteen different school boards, so we have a fair bit of information at our disposal.

Furthermore, we regularly conduct surveys of boards of education and talk to officials at the Ministry of Education (MEXT) to order to understand what the current employment landscape looks like for directly hired ALTs.

With that in mind, we feel that 2020 will potentially bring one of the biggest issues that have faced diret hire ALTs in a long time...

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WHAT IS THE ISSUE?

In 2020, direct hired ALTs will become part of the "Fiscal Year Appointment System".

This system aims to make most contract-based employees - including all ALTs - appointees under the "Local Civil Servant Law".

At the most basic level, it means that direct hire ALTs will no longer be covered by the Trade Union Law or the Labour Standards Law.

In direct relation to this, we will be conducting a nationwide survey of boards of education to find out what they plan to do when this new system comes into effect.

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WHAT TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT

The General Union has a number of concerns regarding this change, which include (but are not limited to) the following issues:


(a) Replacement by Dispatch Workers

While we hope most boards of education won’t go down this path, we have already experienced two boards of education planning to cast aside all of all their direct hire ALTs from April, 2020.

We believe that the reason for this is simple: When the new system takes effect, boards of education will be required to advertise and interview (or some form of selection) candidates for positions EACH YEAR.

So, even if you are already working and have no problems while you do so, you will be part of this annual rehiring process.

(Note that this is different from continual one-year contracts in that several years of one-year contracts are still considered to be continual employment.) 

Some boards of education, especially the smaller ones, do not have the resources to be able to do this each year (especially when they believe they are already having a difficult time finding foreign teachers) and will simply solve the problem by outsourcing the entire process to dispatch companies to handle.

In fact, one of the stated purposes of this new system is, "the promotion of outsourcing to the private sector".


(b) Cuts in Monthly Salary and/or Annual Salary 

On one hand, the new system allows for the payment of bonuses to ALTs.

This should be a good thing, and we believe that with effective union representation, we may be able to improve overall wages.

On the other hand, we have already heard from one board of education that they may introduce the bonus while cutting the monthly salary to compensate.

This would leave ALTs with the same yearly pay, but with less in their pocket each month, and might make it easier for bureaucrats to cut "bonuses" in the future.

Another aspect to this new system is that ALTs will need to be set at either "part-time" (below 38.75 hours per week), or "full-time".

While this may seem harmless, we know that board of education are considering lowering hours to make sure that ALTs are set as part-timers and, in turn, cutting pay for the reduction in hours.


(c) Employment Insecurity

This new system codifies the current instability of limited-term contract work.

The job is no longer just a one-year contract, but a NEW job that is created every year which means that currently holding the job - even if you have multiple renewals - does not add to your job security.

Simply put, all of the case law that makes it difficult to non-renew after multiple renewals is out the window as the job does not technically exist until the municipal government "creates" a new job every year.

Page 19 of the manual issued by the government states:

"When indicating whether categories ⑦ and ⑧ [Note: ALTs will be in these two categories] can be reappointed after one contract period, it should be clearly explained that there will be no automatic reappointment or any kind of long-term continuous appointment.

Furthermore, pages 34-35 state:

"All jobs done by category ⑦ and ⑧ should be considered ‘newly established jobs’ based on yearly fiscal reviews. Therefore, returning to the same job after the term of the contract does not indicate ‘an extension of the employment term’ nor ‘a reappointment’. It means that the employee is being ‘appointed’ to a newly established job.” It goes on to state, “Regarding categories ⑦ and ⑧, under the principle of equal treatment and performance, that requirements for hiring and/or rehiring shall not be restricted solely based on the number of times an applicant has been appointed or by the number of years the applicant has worked."

While this might make for grim reading, it's not all bad news...

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SILVER LININGS

There are some things that we can do to try to turn this new system to our advantage - or, at the very minimum, make sure ALTs don’t face cuts.

While ALTs will no longer have rights under the Trade Union Law (which means the right to collective bargaining or the right to strike will no longer apply), ALTs can still join unions and negotiate with their boards - and if done before 2020, you are still covered by the Trade Union Law.

So, what are the parts of the new system that we can use to improve and protect working conditions?


(a) End of Term Limits

While the new system does not guarantee your renewal simply because you have already had multiple renewals, it does prevent boards from implementing term limits.

In fact, the manuals identify the criteria for further appointments to be based on contract renewal stipulations in the Labour Standards Law (although the Labour Standards in whole is not applicable to these jobs starting in 2020).

Also, as per the Labour Standards Law, criteria for reappointment should be indicated in writing.

Hopefully these points will help us protect jobs at renewal times.


(b) No Retirement Age

Very simply put, all retirement ages should be gone with the introduction of the new system in 2020.


(c) Promotion to a Regular Civil Service Job

Page 56 of the manual states:

"Categories ⑦ and ⑧ can be promoted to ① (regular civil service job) based on competitive examinations, etc..."

While this is not something that we believe can be easily achieved, it is clear that an ALT will not be barred for consideration (actually, Osaka Prefecture already has ALTs in this class).

While some may argue that an ALT who does not possess a Japanese teachers licence cannot be a teacher, there are many licensing methods already in place which can deal with this issue.

Furthermore, while most civil servants must undergo a test in Japanese, there are already other means in place to deal with this, too.

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We will know a lot more as things unfold further, but we urge you not to wait till the last minute - especially if you believe your board is getting ready to replace you with dispatch workers.

Keep your ear to the ground, keep in good contact with others who may have information, and let us know if you think something is up.

In the meantime, please see the General Union’s précis of the new system in this PDF document.

Additional information