News - 2004

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News Archives 2004 - 2003 - 2002

December 24th, 2004
NOVA Socialization Policy Ruled Illegal
On 24 December 2004, judgment was passed at Osaka District Court in an unfair dismissal case brought against Nova by a General Union member. This was the first time Nova's policy has been judged upon by a court of law. Although the plaintiff was found to have not been unfairly dismissed for other reasons, the court had this to say about Nova's controversial, non-socialization policy:

'A comprehensive prohibition as in this clause forbidding socialization cannot be held to be necessary.' .... 'Forbidding in advance in a comprehensive manner any socialization between English conversation teachers and students in order to prevent trouble and disciplining for a violation of this rule cannot be admitted as fair or socially acceptable.'

Does this mean that the socialization policy is dead? No, but it will put NOVA off dismissing teachers using the socialization policy. In the end, it will be one more tool the union can use to get NOVA to withdraw this policy.

December, 2004
Changes afoot at Kitakyudai

When I started working at the University of Kitakyushu as a gaikokujin kyoshi in the year 2000, I had no idea how my terms and conditions of employment compared with other members of staff. I had spent a very happy three years as an ALT on the JET Program but after 6 months at the University of Kitakyushu, I knew something was wrong. The degree of social distance between my Japanese colleagues and me seemed abnormally large. I was not allowed to speak or vote in meetings and my position as a gaikokujin kyoshi was clearly stigmatised.

The gaikokujin kyoshi group of the time mobilised and started to research the issue in more depth. The university union helped us gather accurate information about how our terms and conditions of employment compared with other staff at the university. To my regret, we found that the gaikokujin kyoshi position was the only one that in principle required applicants to be within 8 years of graduation (which functioned as an indirect age cap). Once employed, we were the only teaching staff to be employed on 1-year contracts renewable 4 times only. And since we were ineligible to re-apply for our own jobs, we were consequently excluded from the promotion structure and denied long-term employment, along with the social security that brings.

Since then, almost all the gaikokujin kyoshi engaged in constructive and friendly dialogue with colleagues. Just by writing and talking to people, we drummed up a lot of good will over the last 4 years. Between May and July of 2004, we visited the Deans, the Vice-President and President, who were all willing to meet with us and discuss the issue informally. We took the opportunity to tell them about the UN human rights treaties and the UN reporting system, all of which they seemed to find interesting. We felt we had their support.

In July 2004, through Fukuoka General Union, we demanded collective bargaining with University of Kitakyushu officials under the Japanese Trade Union law. We finally sat down for a heart to heart with Kitakyushu City officials, whom we had not previously been able to reach due to the 'distance' between Kitakyushu City and Kitakyushu University. Kitakyushu City is our official employer. We had researched the issue in great depth and knew exactly how our terms and conditions of employment differed from those of other staff. We made as strong a case as we could that the university was discriminating against us and thus breaking two human rights treaties (ICERD and CESCR.) We told them that if they did not stop discriminating against us, we would report them to United Nations Human Rights Committees using the human rights reporting system available to NGOs. Over the summer months, the university union supported us by speaking out strongly against the gaikokujinkyoshi system in written memoranda.

In September 2004, the University of Kitakyushu suddenly announced that they had made some interim decisions regarding the foreign lecturer position that they have promised to review again at a later date:

1. They have agreed to change the job title from gaikojujin kyoshi to gogaku kyoshi

2. They have lifted the '8-years within graduation' restriction upon applicants

3. Foreign lecturers can now re-apply for their jobs at the end of the 5-year period (which opens up the possibility for longer-term employment.)

We are still not satisfied with these changes but nonetheless, given how conservative some public officials can be and also considering that we have managed to maintain goodwill along the way, I am very pleased. Dialogue continues....

Stop firings at NOVA!
Nova Union of Staff and Teachers of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu began to fight back in November against Nova's recent attacks on the union. The union sued Nova at the Tokyo Regional Labor Commission (Rodo Iinkai) over unfair labor practices, asserting that the company's refusal to permit recording of collective bargaining demonstrates a complete lack of good faith. (Good faith in negotiations is obligatory under Japanese law.) In addition to refusing recording, Nova management also has refused to allow a student supporter of a recently fired teacher to be present during talks. The union insisted that the student remain, pointing out a relevant point in Japan's Trade Union Law.

Peter Logan, director of foreign personnel at Nova, responded: "I don't care about Trade Union Law." Such a comment underlines the English conversation school's refusal to comply with labor laws, including its failure to produce and register official working rules (Shugyo Kisoku). The union also sued Nova at the Rodo Iinkai over the dismissal of three of its members and harassment of the Nova Union President, Robert Tench.

Nova has recently fired five union members in what appears to be an act of revenge for the original suit at the Rodo Iinkai. All the dismissed members are extremely popular teachers with nearly a decade of experience teaching at Nova. The union has held over a dozen leaflettings in November alone, including large ones on Nov. 8 and Nov. 16 in front of Ochanomizu School and Shinjuku School. Fifty-one members participated in the Shinjuku demonstration, demanding in a loud, bold voice through speakers that Nova negotiate in good faith and reinstate the unfairly dismissed union members. One of the posters depicted the famous pink Nova bunny, stomping on a teacher and whipping a student. A week after the Shinjuku demonstration, the Japan Times ran an article (Nov. 23, page 14) on Nambu's activities, including a photo of two active Nambu members at the demonstration, holding up the pink bunny poster. In addition, eleven members joined the most recent collective bargaining at Nova 26, breaking the union's previous record of ten, also at Nova earlier the month. While Logan did most of the talking on management side, many of the nearly dozen union negotiators contributed to the negotiations, expressing their outrage at the refusal of the company to produce even the slightest bit of evidence for the wild claims they were making against the fired members.

During the early November talks, one student, who is president of the Reinstate Instructor Jim Association, spoke eloquently about the need to reinstate such a talented, personable and experienced teacher. He also handed Logan a petition with well over 100 signatures of students demanding Jim's immediate reinstatement. Logan dismissed the petition without making even a pretense at reading it. Another major demonstration is planned on Dec. 10 in front of a major Nova school.

July 14th, 2004
Court slams Nova's shady business practices

Nova Co., Japan's biggest chain of English conversation schools, has suffered a damaging blow after the Tokyo District Court ordered it to return money to a woman who did not use lessons paid for in advance.

Osaka-based Nova copped a lambasting from the court about its shady business practices.

Lawyers for the 44-year-old Tokyo woman who sued the conversation school chain hailed the ruling.

"This is the first time Nova's methods for dealing with the return of money paid for lessons not taken has been clearly ruled as illegal," one of the unnamed woman's defense lawyers said.

Presiding Judge Toshio Hara slammed the conversation school.

"When the student agreed to purchase points for additional classes, Nova barely explained the consequences of canceling the contract before it had expired, which failed to abide by the law," Hara ruled. "It is not permissible to claim repayments cannot be made simply because a certain time limit has passed."

Consumer advocates, who have received numerous complaints about Nova's handling of financial matters with its customers, were also happy with the verdict.

"Many people don't realize the consequences of canceling a contract until they actually do it," a spokesman for the Tokyo Metropolitan Comprehensive Consumer Center said. "We want companies to give a sufficient explanation of a contract's terms at the time when it is signed."

Nova works on a system where students pay a certain amount and receive points, which are used up each time they take a lesson at the school.

In 1999, the woman started attending classes at Nova, then in December 2001 spent about 710,000 yen to pay for another 600 points.

Nova's regulations say points can be used for three years. But what it didn't tell the woman was that, under the company's illegal regulations, any points she hadn't used in a year were automatically reduced by one third.

When the woman cancelled her contract with Nova in July last year, she received only 250,000 yen for the points she had remaining. The court ruled Nova should have paid her about 500,000 yen and ordered it to hand over that amount. (Mainichi and wire reports, July 14, 2004)

TACT President apologises for violence
Tact Ltd. President Matsuda has issued a written apology to the WinBe Teachers Union. After weeks of pressure from the WinBe Union and NUGW Tokyo South, the company has admitted wrongdoing in its treatment of two teachers. The Head of WinBe English Schools (a division of Tact), Mr. Matsuo committed acts of violence against a teacher earlier this year, and unfairly removed another teacher from his school without explanation.

In a growing atmosphere of harassment and abuse, the WinBe Teachers Union fought to have these acts recognised by the company as unfair treatment. Earlier responses from the company had been dismissive and disingenuous at best. Following a meeting with Tact President Matsuda, the company issued the Union a one-page statement apologising for its behaviour and recognising the WinBe Teachers Union.

In March, Mr. Matsuo attacked a teacher worker from behind with violent thrusts to the back followed by a similar assault from the front. This assault took place for no apparent reason other than Mr. Matsuo's personal dislike of the teacher. The Union considers this behaviour to be illegal, unprofessional and an assault on dignity as well as the person. Despite the apology, there is serious reason to suspect that such behaviour is not isolated, and that a culture of violence exists within the company. WinBe and Tact would be well advised to eradicate such acts.

In the same month, a long-term employee was given only a few days' notice to leave his school. Despite a perfect record over three years of teaching, no explanation was offered. When asked for a reason, he was told to 'mind his own business.' He was given the option of moving to another school or resigning. The WinBe Union considers this to be an act of harassment with no basis in reason or logic. Again, we believe this is not an isolated incident, and that more teachers will be informed by phone that they have a few days to 'pack their bags or resign.'

It must also be pointed out that despite the apology being issued, no comprehensible explanation was offered for such blatant disregard of workers' rights.

Therefore, the WinBe Union has doubts about the seriousness of the company's resolve in this matter. Mr. Matsuo has also showed a distinct lack of remorse or willingness to change.

We would like to hear from any other workers who feel they have been subjected to violence, harassment, unfair treatment or abuse of any kind while working at WinBe. Only by bringing such matters to the attention of the Union and the company can we hope to change things for the better, and make sure present and future teachers do not suffer the same illegal treatment.

Hands-on approach works with Hands On English
A Nambu member was summarily dismissed in February without the required one-month's notice, or a dismissal allowance in lieu. He had taught for several months on a one-year contract at a tiny English language school for children called Hands On English. Nambu recently was handed a victory, however, and signed a handsome financial settlement.

Unincorporated, the school is run by two sisters who usually fly to the US or Canada to recruit teachers for a yearlong stint at their school out in Chiba Prefecture. The sisters set up the teacher in a flat and pay for airfare to Japan and back home again once the year is up. The contract, written in English, seems like it was written by one of the school's toddler students. It uses one of the sisters' nickname 'Peggy,' such as: 'Peggy will provide your apartment;' and 'Peggy will keep her personal belongings in your apartment.' In fact, Peggy arrives at teachers' homes unannounced to pick up or leave off her things.

Three collective bargaining sessions ended without progress toward an agreement. The sisters claimed the dismissed teacher owed them money, despite half a year left in the contract. The union leafletted on April 5 in front of the school, which has a very vulnerable storefront classroom.

After some research into tenant law, we discovered that the teacher was in a strong position thanks to the fact that he was living in their apartment and that the sisters had responsibilities as landladies separate from their employer obligations. The school asserted that the dismissal leads naturally and inevitably to eviction. The union declared he would stay not only until mid-July when the current contract expires but also even beyond that date on the assumption that his contract would naturally be renewed.

The contract states clearly that 'Peggy' will provide the apartment, so that portion of the employment contract is a de facto lease on the apartment. It takes six months or more to evict a tenant even if you win in court, so the sisters soon realized they were in a no-win situation since our member could simply stay rent-free ('squat from the sisters' point of view) until they gave in.

The sisters met with a Nambu organizer several times in informal sessions and finally began to offer a settlement in good faith. The agreement includes financial compensation in exchange for the Nambu member leaving the apartment after a set date.

May 14th, 2004
Nishinomiya Dispute Settled
In the last Union Voice, we reported that Nishinomiya Board of Education had, at the eleventh hour, approached the General Union with a peace proposal. The dispute was over a 40,000-yen pay cut and the non-renewal of the branch chair.

On 31 March, the day before the start of the new academic year, a division chief at the Board, Mr Santaya, intervened to make a one-package proposal for a total settlement to the dispute. If the union decided to reject it, the 40,000-yen pay cut would stand.

The new proposal offered:

A softening of the pay cut (eventually down to a 25,000-yen reduction per month), but with:
A 30-minute cut in working time per day
A reduction from 234 to 208 working days per year
An allocation of 21 paid holidays per year, as opposed to the proposed 10 + under the Labour Standards Law minimums.
Spring, summer and winter holidays become true holidays, in which teachers can travel or work part-time jobs.
A promise to continue to negotiate over a union office and notice board.
A written apology to the union for unfair labour practices and obstruction of the union's strike on 17 December 2003.
The branch chair would be rehired as a teacher trainer/planner for the ALT system, along with support for the Nishinomiya City International Section, with fewer hours than the teachers (28), but on a higher hourly rate, and with the freedom of working other part-time jobs. He would also have full Health Insurance, Pension, and Unemployment Insurance.

It was decided that, naturally enough, a majority vote must be the decider, as the proposal affected every one of the branch members. The Nishinomiya Branch of the General Union held an emergency branch meeting on 1 April in order to decide whether to accept or reject the package. The majority voted for the proposal after a lively debate and some agonising.

The agreement was finally signed by the General Union and the Head of the Nishinomiya Board of Education on 6 April after 4 days of special holidays for our members while the final details were being straightened out. After the signing, our Unfair Labour Practices Case against the City of Nishinomiya was withdrawn, as part of the agreement.

So, in the end, we had to accept a pay cut, though with certain real improvements to our members' working conditions. We managed to secure employment for the non-renewed branch chair, and we live to fight another day. The bureaucrats, who believed that they were safe under civil law by simply offering contracts with new conditions and not offering a contract to one of our members, had not factored the General Union into their calculations.

Our branch members at Nishinomiya can be proud that they stuck together and showed the Board that they will not be bullied or intimidated. A big thank you to all those who gave their support.

Nichibei Eigo Gakuin First Hearing
The union's first witness in the Unfair Labour Practices Case testified against Nichibei at the Osaka Labour Commission on 26 April. The hearing had been postponed a month by the union on account of the vast pile of documentary evidence that had to prepared, along with translations.

The challenge was to get through all the material in the 2 hours allotted, but the union's lawyer, Mr Niwa and our witness did a thorough job of it.

The main thrust of the case was to demonstrate Nichibei's bad faith in collective bargaining during the past two years over the union's pay rise demands. To give an example, in 1998 Nichibei turned down a pay demand, saying 'We're in the red'. In 2001, they again turned down a pay demand, citing deflation and recession as the reason, along with the fact that union members had been getting good commissions, which was a kind of pay rise. We disproved this, supplying the company with statistics and even graphs to show that commissions had actually gone down since 1995.

'What do you mean by pay rise?'
So, in the next negotiation, they changed their story: 'We're 5 million in the red'.
Feb. 2002
: 'We can't give the same rate to everyone.' 'We give pay rises on ability' (but no offer)
: President Kanehisa: 'We can't treat you differently while continuing to cut jobs and pay for the majority of other employees'.
: President Kanehisa: 'Who said that about cutting jobs and pay?' 'I never said we were in the red. We've always managed to stay in the black'.
Vice-President Kuroda: 'What do you mean by pay rise?' (NOTE: This was all in Japanese, so it wasn't a language problem!)

Yes, this company, which has had so much trouble understanding that workers have rights, and that there are laws in Japan governing the workplace, also cannot quite grasp the concept of pay going up.

March 2003: 'Finances are tight' 'If you don't like it here, you can leave'. 'If you strike, we'll sue you'. 'Finances are good and bad'.

In fact the union had researched Nichibei's finances in March 2002 and found that they were making good profits. Our witness summed it all up once in negotiations when he said 'The reason for not giving us pay rises is just that you don't want to'.

Other topics in the questioning were the defamatory leaflets handed out to students while union members were on strike, as well as the victimisation of union members by herding them into a windowless store room on Saturdays with broken chairs and in stifling heat. Nichibei claims this room is the 'presidential library', where, you might imagine, our members pore over tomes of the classics in leather-upholstered armchairs, not, surely, on broken old chairs, hammering away on an antiquated computer, surrounded by cardboard boxes.

In fact, one of the highlights of the day was the revelation of photographs of this storeroom-submitted as evidence-with union members cramped together sharing one computer, along with pictures of a chair which had a steel spike protruding from its back, which the witness has torn his trousers on last December while sitting down. That chair had been removed from the school because it was too dangerous. Another photo showed the torn trousers themselves. Luckily there was no bloodshed.

Through all of this, Vice-president Kuroda sat grimly, sometimes shaking her head and mouthing things, sometimes dozing off. Her time for the stand will probably come in autumn some time, though Nichibei still has not named their witnesses.

Meanwhile, the next hearing - Nichibei's cross-examination of our witness - will be on 21 June, 1pm. Come and support!

Ritsumeikan Branch Report
The Rits branch of the General Union was formally established in May 2003 in response to the university's request for the International Institute Jokin Koshi to sign contracts for the academic year 2003-2004.

There were a number of things we disagreed with in the revised contracts, but our biggest problem was the fact that they were for a limited term. Our initial reaction was to say that we needed to get advice. At this point, we consulted GU HQ, and the outcome was a set of formal demands being submitted to the University. Apart from the standard requests to honour Japanese Labour Law, our main demands were an end to limited term contracts and a pay rise.

Formal negotiations were called for July. On the Union side were representatives from the GU and the Institute teachers. The university fielded a team of nine. A long negotiation ensued, with polite but sometimes heated (or icily cold) exchanges. The most immediate result of this meeting was agreement by Rits to enrol all contract workers in Employment Insurance as required by law - a significant commitment which we welcomed.

Other issues were not so easy, and faxes continued to fly back and forth over the summer months. However, in the meantime, parallel schemes were afoot. Supporters from the faculty put forward a proposal for new positions at the Institute, which resulted in new posts being advertised in late December. The existing Institute teachers applied and were successful.

The final outcome was that in late March we were offered new 5-year contracts with promotions and a pay rise. I can confidently say that despite the indirect route, without the Union's involvement, none of this would have happened. We won the right to Employment Insurance, the right to continue working, and a pay rise, all of which bodes well for future relations between the Union and the University.

April 2nd, 2004
Bar backs GU on NOVA's socialisation policy
Human Rights Committee judges NOVA's policy violation of human rights

Ten years ago, in September 1994, there was uproar at NOVA when the company announced that they would test teachers for drug use and put a clause to that effect in the contract because of the arrest of one NOVA teacher for possession of marijuana. Hundreds of teachers rushed to join the union and demanded an end to the policy. A union branch was declared and the General Union called a press conference, where members announced their refusal to accept the tests.

On 30 September 1994, 11 union teachers filed a complaint with the Osaka Bar Association Human Rights Committee, and won a judgment on 25 July 1995 that compulsory testing was a human rights violation. Forms giving assent to the testing which teachers had been required to sign at the risk of losing their jobs were ordered to be returned to the teachers. The Bar Association likened the drug tests to a criminal investigation but without any concrete evidence of wrongdoing. After teachers stood up against this as a union, no teachers were ever drug-tested again, and the drug-testing clauses in the teachers' contracts became a dead letter.

10 years target
The General Union has for a number of years been demanding and negotiating the abolition of the draconian clauses in the teachers' contracts and working rules. 'The employee shall not initiate, agree to or participate in any interaction with the clients of the Employer outside the place of employment', 'The instructor will not fraternize or socialize, or attempt to do so with the clients of the Employer for any reason outside the workplace'. Faced again with NOVA's refusal last February, NOVA union teachers, with full union backing, filed a complaint at the same Human Rights Committee against the non-socialisation clauses.

Why the fuss?
Some teachers at NOVA doubtless think 'But we signed a contract, and we agreed to it, so why all the fuss?' Not so fast. Just because you sign something, it doesn't mean it's binding or even legal. In civilized countries you can't sign away your legal rights. Even if you put your signature to a contract, any illegal clauses in it are automatically invalid (without necessarily invalidating the other clauses).

'The right to date'?
Unfortunately, the mass media, doing what they do best, have managed to reduce a serious issue to the level of the gutter. The "respected" newspaper 'Nihon Keizai Shimbun' made asses of
themselves by putting a heart mark alongside their headline reporting the case. One panelist on Ogura's 'Tokutane' morning news on Channel 8 also missed the point, saying 'They signed the contract; if they don't like it, they can leave; there are loads of schools around'. Some teachers have even expressed the opinion that the union is fighting for the right to have sex with students!

Let's look at the facts. NOVA has been abusing its rights by using the socialisation issue as a reason to dismiss teachers in serious relationships. In our complaint we listed some examples from the year 2000:

* a teacher who got engaged to a young woman who was by chance a student in a different NOVA school from his.

* a teacher who was given the choice to quit or be fired for getting engaged (See 'Justin's Story', below).

* a teacher who was forced to quit for meeting and dating someone he had first met in a bakery, who again, happened to be a NOVA student.

In the first case, the union won the withdrawal of the dismissal, but with the abuses continuing, we decided that we should attack the policy at its root, as a violation of the most basic rights of freedom of association guaranteed in the Constitution.

We are not fighting simply for the 'right to date', and certainly not for the right to take advantage of students. Some people will do bad things regardless of rules, but we don't criminalise driving because of car accidents.

The Recommendation
The Bar Association's letter of 24 February recommended that NOVA delete the offending clauses from contracts and working rules, and withdraw the dismissal of one of the plaintiffs. Its comment on the reasons for its findings included these points:

* NOVA's policy is a violation of freedom of association and the right to privacy, and they cannot prohibit employees' activities outside the workplace.

* The rules are too vague and too extensive to be used as regulations.

* Even though teachers sign these contracts, the employee is in an inherently weak position and cannot object to regulations proposed by an employer.

* Japanese staff are under no such restrictions, and so the non-socialisation policy for foreigners is problematic from the point of view of equality.

NOVA Backs Down?
In the Bar's letter, they wrote, 'According to the defendant's lawyer, they have now started revising the present Instructor's Contract and Working Regulations in their entirety, intending to delete the aforementioned provisions prohibiting socialisation with students, and a new contract and regulations are to be decided this December.' The GU will hold NOVA to its word.

Justin's Story (NOVA's non-socialisation policy)
Justin enthusiastically agreed to have his name put in the original complaint filed against NOVA in February last year, and after the Bar's ruling, he wrote this letter to the union:

"I can't express the satisfaction I feel that the General Union has won such a victory over NOVA! Wow! This is something I've been waiting to hear for nearly 4 years now. I always knew that what I had done was not something worthy of being (fired) forced to resign for. I was so angry when it all happened then. After all, mine was an honest relationship that turned into a happy marriage which I am still very blessed with. I was not out taking advantage of students, but I knew a lot who were: nothing ever happened to them.

Anyway, and fortunately, because of me having to leave NOVA, I was able to move on to better opportunities. I found a much better job with better pay. Nonetheless, what you have done to make sure that what I went through at NOVA never happens to another teacher/employee again is very noble and worthy of much praise. I thank you very much for your efforts to do what is right and protect human rights in Japan.

Currently, I'm living in Hawaii and I work for a bank. I'm very happy out here. My wife is out here with me and we are making a pretty good life for ourselves.

To imagine that I should have just ignored her and not dated her just because of NOVA's stupid policy of anti-socialisation would have been one of my biggest regrets and I definitely would not have had the happiness I have now. I'm truly grateful that I did what was right and believed in myself enough to take a stand and a risk, even though it meant losing my job. That's precisely what you are doing for others now and it's to be commended. Thanks to you, teachers at NOVA will have the basic rights they are entitled to as honest, hardworking members of a great society.

With lots of sincere thanks and aloha,
Justin Christensen

Nishinomiya Sues for Peace
We reported in the last 'Voice' that the General Union had filed an Unfair Labour Practices case against the Nishinomiya City Board of Education on 28 January. Astonishingly, two weeks later the Board informed the union branch leader that his contract would not be renewed, on the pretext that he didn't have a degree, even though they had known this for years. So, when he came to testify at the Labour Commission (as union's witness, questioned by the union) on 17 February, he not only recounted the tale of the Board's pay cut for union members and its interference in the right to strike, but brought tidings of his own dismissal, a new Unfair Labour Practice of a particularly blatant kind.

For a while the Board stood firm, but after several meetings, with the union assuring them of certain defeat, a breakthrough came when the Division Head at the Board got involved for the first time in this dispute, suggesting talks aiming at a total settlement by the beginning of the new academic year in April.

At the time of going to press, talks have run over into April, with the bizarre sight of our members still on holiday, at the request of the Board, without contracts, and the outcome still unconfirmed.

Things are at a very delicate stage in the negotiations, but it appears that some kind of agreement will be reached soon.

YMCA Members win Pay Rise
At the beginning of the Shunto Season (spring bargaining), the Osaka YMCA warned the traditional annual wage increase bargained with the union was in jeopardy. The union's answer was simple; if the company couldn't afford the pay raise for all full time foreign teachers, just give the union teachers a raise.

Sound selfish? Not really, considering that non-union teachers have constantly received the benefits negotiated by the majority of their coworkers who are union members. While their coworkers have dedicated themselves to the union and paid union dues, the non-union teachers have had a free ride. The YMCA, not knowing how to handle the union's position, decided that the traditional 5000 pay rise was still possible.

With quality of education in mind, the branch also demanded that YMCA provide teachers with better paid training and negotiate the terms of the training with the General Union. While the issue has yet to be finalized, YMCA has indicated that they may be prepared to fund up to 50% of teacher' continued education under certain conditions. This would be a win/win situation for the company, teachers and students alike.

February 24th, 2004
Osaka Bar Association urges NOVA to lift non-socialization policy
The Osaka Bar Association on Tuesday urged Osaka-based Nova Co foreign language school to lift a ban on foreign teachers dating students and to nullify past dismissals of teachers for breaking the rule. The management of Nova, however, said it "does not plan to remove the ban as it has been set in order to protect both the teachers and students from trouble as they do not know each other's cultures and customs." (Kyodo News)

Please stay posted for more information about how the union will now proceed. It took over a year to get this ruling, but it was well worth the wait. If you're interested in fighting NOVA's socialization policy, now is the time to join the union. Also, if you've ever been fired for socializing, please contact us at 06-6352-9619. More soon.

February 15th, 2004
General Union sues Nishinomiya City
On 28 January, the General Union filed an Unfair Labour Practices case against Nishinomiya City, for its discriminatory treatment of union members working for the Board of Education as ALTs or NEATs.
This branch of the General Union was established on 29 October 2001, demanding unemployment insurance and a grievance system. A little later, the union demanded payment of unpaid, contractually agreed bonuses. When the Board refused, with the excuse that the issue had overshot the 2-year legal limitation on such claims, we realised this employer was just as unscrupulous as any tin pot Eikaiwa lawbreaker.

The 'wild group' hits back
The branch scored a major victory, however, with the repeal of the 5-year employment limit in October 2002. The retaliation started quickly, even before the announcement of the decision. The branch leader was suddenly the target of an extraordinary campaign of harassment by the two main members of the 'wild group' in the board, Umeoka and Sakurai. He didn't have a degree! His employment from 2003 could not be guaranteed! The reality was that they had known this for years, but were desperately rummaging around for ammunition against the GU.

We beat off this attack, and the next year the branch forged on with new demands; a union office and notice board. On 27 November last year, the board struck back in earnest. A 'proposal' to cut pay by 40,000 yen was sent to the union. This turned out to be a cut only for the union member teachers, not for non-union teachers doing the same job hired from the sister city in the USA. This was a clear Unfair Labour Practice, against the Trade Union Law ('disadvantageous treatment of union members'), and the union demanded negotiations in an attempt to persuade the Board to back down.

Slash that deficit, smash that union!
On 8 December, collective bargaining was held, and the board claimed the cut was because of the city's financial crisis. How saving 4 million yen a year for Nishinomiya City would solve that deficit was not obvious to our members, and a 'lively' exchange followed, with members demanding to know the extent of the Board's bureaucrats' own pay cuts. After at first refusing to answer, they in the end admitted it amounted to 0.2%, as opposed to the proposed 12% for our members.

On 16 December, the Board sent their reply, after considering our protests, but it was totally unsatisfactory: they failed to retract the proposal. The union's counterblow fell swiftly. A strike was arranged for the very next day.

Low level
That evening, after getting wind of the strike, Board officials committed an astonishingly low level Unfair Labour Practice by calling round members' homes, prying for information and in effect putting pressure on them (and their wives, in some instances!) by telling them to come to work as usual the next day, as no strike notice had been received. The implication was that the strike would be illegal. They should have known very well that courts have ruled that strikes must be preceded by a strike notice, but that does not mean unions cannot give in the notice 2 minutes before the strikes commence…which is exactly what was to happen.

Mayor forced to face the facts
The next morning, branch members along with fellow union members from other workplaces descended on the Board of Education and City Hall, handing over the strike notice and picketing the building with a megaphone and leafleting of the general public. Some confused bureaucrats came out to protest, "You can't just strike like this; you have to try mediation at the Labour Commission", thereby compounding their feverish telephone calls of the night before with a new attempt to obstruct the right to strike. The branch leader even managed to explain the dispute to the mayor of the city, Mr Yamada, as he was pulling into the car park.

The stage was set now for the Labour Commission. The Board's violations of the Trade Union Law were clear, they were not backing down, and so we were left with no choice. The Unfair Labour Practices was filed at Osaka Labour Commission on 28 January, followed by a press conference in Kobe. The next morning the story appeared in the Asahi, Mainichi and Kobe Shimbun. Meanwhile, we are continuing to try to settle the issue through negotiations. The next is scheduled for 13 February.

Support the struggle!
We hope the city realises the grotesque unfairness of its actions and comes to Osaka with the intention of settling this dispute, but we ask all members of the union to stand with their fellow members at Nishinomiya and support them to the end in this fight.

Opening session, Labour Commission case: 17 February.

General Union sues Nichibei Eigo Gakuin
On 24 December last year, faced with Nichibei's bad faith in collective bargaining, and their refusal to attempt to settle their labour problems in conciliation at the Labour Commission, the General Union filed an Unfair Labour Practice case at Osaka Labour Commission. Nichibei is accused of 'Bad faith negotiation', tantamount to refusal of collective bargaining, along with 'control and interference' and 'disadvantageous treatment' of union members. These are all violations of Trade Union Law, article 7. Nichibei is no stranger to the Labour Commission. This is in fact the 3rd time they have been sued there, the other two being on 12 May 1998 and 24 September 1999, both times for flagrant union busting, and both ending in a total victory for the General Union. The 1st investigation in this case took place on 16 January. Nichibei got off to a less than flying start, submitting their 'Tobensho' (official reply to the union's allegations) late. This document was nothing but a long-winded exercise in trying to divert the attention of the Labour Commission from the main point of the case - bad faith negotiation over their financial condition.

1992: Pay freeze announced. New pay rise system promised for 1993. Still waiting, GU demands rises in '98.

1998: 'In the red' 'Lost 20 million last year'

2001: 'You're getting pay rises through commissions' (Truth: we were getting less than in 1995)

2002: 'We're 5 million in the red' 'We cannot give you (union members) a pay rise while continuing to cut jobs and pay for the vast majority of other employees' (we found out that Nichibei's profits were actually 'soaring', according to one business research group. And the continuing layoffs and pay cuts? You guessed it: hogwash. 'We're not saying we're not making money' (later denied to the Labour Commission. New version: 'We never said that we're not saying we're not making money'). Uh...

2003: Finances: 'Good and Bad' 'Up and down' 'Botchi-botchi' 'tight'. Meanwhile, they have opened 2 new schools in central Tokyo within the last year, and hired new teachers to take over the union full-timers' lessons, thus increasing their personnel costs dramatically. Quite the financial crisis! Nichibei starts a performance based pay rise system. Union members get nothing. New discovery by Nichibei: 'We've always managed to stay in the black'.

Don't worry, we're confused too. Welcome to the weird world of Nichibei's negotiating style. For years they didn't need to persuade anyone; they just contradicted themselves merrily, and if anyone objected, they were told 'If you don't like it, you can go back to your home country. We can replace you any time'. Now, however, they have to explain their logic and defend their honesty to a government agency. They fouled up royally last time, and there's no sign that it will be any different this time round - despite them turning up with a new lawyer. The last one who lost 3 civil court cases for them against us obviously became one of the 'job losses' they go on about. Anyway, in addition to all this nonsense, the company has taken away union members' group lessons, and put us in a storeroom with broken chairs - they call it the 'presidential library' - away from the school, while telling the students in leaflets that we are 'lacking in the consciousness of the responsibility that goes with the job of teacher'.

Sad to say, Nichibei has again decided to have an unpleasant relationship with the union. They recently slandered the union to a new teacher ("They're always wandering about. I don't know what they do all day long. As far as I know, they do nothing. If they say anything strange to you, anything you don't understand, come to me"). He came straight to us, as any sane person would. Next Labour Commission session: GU's witness, the branch vice-chair testifies on 22 March, 1pm. Come and support!

Discriminatory Practices at the YMCA

"We, the YMCAs in Japan, learning from the life of love and service manifested in Jesus Christ shall carry on the following mission in collaboration with other YMCAs throughout the world. We shall strive to preserve human rights, seeking justice and fairness."

Osaka YMCA is a quasi-religious organization purporting to follow the ethics of Jesus in its business dealings. Publicly, YMCA espouses a policy of fighting against discrimination but is in fact a patriarchy that fails to address the need for equal opportunities for both female and foreign employees.

In 1997, the Osaka YMCA and the General Union signed a collective agreement confirming the YMCA's policy of fighting against racial discrimination, stating that they would not discriminate on the basis of skin colour or nationality in the hiring process. While this policy is commendable, it fails to address the institutionalized discriminatory practices within the YMCA.

Historically, Osaka YMCA has been a "male-centred" organisation, but for many years now has heavily relied upon its foreign and female employees to generate income. This is particularly true in the International College and High School divisions. The YMCA's "two tiered" hiring practices belies this fact, and is evidence of their continued discriminatory practices.

As with many Japanese companies, the YMCA hires employees in one of three ways.

1. Unlimited term contracts

2. One year limited term contracts

3. Part-time (working up to 40 hours per week).

Within Japan, unlimited term contracts are recognized as the most desirable as they provide the strongest protection for workers. So, in 1996 the General Union and YMCA began discussions to develop a system whereby foreigners would be given the same rights as Japanese Nationals and have access to the unlimited term contract system, culminating in a legally binding collective agreement in February 1997. Again in March 1998, YMCA gave written assurances of their commitment to such a system. Six years later, YMCA seems to have dropped all pretence of equal opportunity employment, and have still not provided foreign employees access to unlimited term contracts.

At Osaka YMCA International High School, 50% of full-time employees are native speakers of English. Yet, not one has ever been placed on an unlimited term contract, despite foreign teachers being essential to the school's existence. With similar or identical duties to their Japanese male counterparts, native English speakers' salaries are as much as 30% lower.

Not content to confine discrimination to foreigners, YMCA treats Japanese female employees with similar disregard. While all full time Japanese male teachers at the International High School enjoy unlimited term contracts, no female teacher at present enjoys this privilege. Again, their salaries are substantially less than their Japanese male counterparts.

In 2003, YMCA's continued blatantly discriminatory practices lead to foreign employees striking for better working conditions, and we will continue to carry on this fight until the YMCA becomes a discrimination-free workplace.

January 17th, 2004
Berlitz Pay Period Over

With the pay period over the results are in. The Berlitz per lesson instructor had a final flurry on the final Saturday and picked up another 2 lessons. 67 units after providing 354 hours availability. That's still 367 yen per hour. The total didn't reach .5 on the remainder so we can't round it up.

January 16th, 2004
Berlitz Per Lesson Problems Prevail

A per lesson instructor teaching English and another language at Berlitz has a very high availability (354 hours from December 18th 2003 - January 17th 2004) but has only been given 65 units (travel and teaching) so far this pay period. With 1 day remaining this instructor is in dire straights. With a salary standing at approximately 130,000 yen this calculates to 367 yen per hour based on their negotiated schedule of availability. Berlitz wouldn't even let the instructor reach 78 units to qualify for the holiday bonus. Berlitz, you do your teachers proud.

The following articles are taken from the NUGW 'Voice'.