Mass NOVA Meeting at GU, 30 September

On 30 September over 100 NOVA teachers and staff packed themselves into the small General Union offices in Temmabashi with similar numbers attending meetings over two days in Tokyo. The big question that everyone asked was whether NOVA was going to go under.

Seeing that no one except the president of NOVA knows the answer to this question, union organizers stuck to answering the questions they could. The meeting covered topics regarding unpaid wages and what will happen to wages if the company goes into bankruptcy, which teachers qualified for unemployment insurance and how they could claim their benefits, JMA and Shakai Hoken, housing, and a host of other concerns that everyone has when they fear losing their livelihoods, especially in a foreign country. But more importantly the meeting turned into a powerful demonstration and affirmation of why the unionization of the language teaching industry is necessary. In short, the general consensus was that without a union, teachers and staff have no way to balance the unbridled power of the eikaiwa industry, an industry that has a reputation for unsavoury practices. The General Union, as one organizer at the meeting put it, “Has accomplished far more at NOVA than what our numbers should have allowed us to, but this is not enough and sadly this condition will continue until the vast majority of Eikaiwa workers see the need for unionization.” This is the one positive thing that may come out of this crisis. For the first time since the drug testing scandal at NOVA in 1994, hundreds of NOVA teachers are coming together, and are armed with information about the union and their rights. The climate of fear that has hung around NOVA for many years may have been broken and if the company survives and teachers and staff do not lose their new-found realization of their own collective power, we may see real change; not only at NOVA, but throughout the industry. These teachers and staff that have now attended their first ever union meeting in Japan now have a real choice; build a union strong enough to challenge the big language schools or suffer with no information or support the next time bankruptcy threatens either at NOVA or some other chain school - or even high school or university. Cynics, and there are many, will cry that the union is trying to take advantage of a large group of people simply to increase its numbers and is in fact happy about NOVA’s possible demise. Let the cynics talk, but look at the facts. The only party in the Eikaiwa industry that has ever had the best interests of staff, teachers, and students at heart is the union, and now that teachers and staff have the information in front of their eyes, we hope that they will see what can be done by mass unionization and join the union either at NOVA or their next workplace. All of us in language schools have the ability to revolutionize this industry, to force it to change, so that the current crisis never has to be relived at NOVA or any other language company in Japan.

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