Statement of the General Union on the COVID-19 Pandemic

covid 19 iThe General Union has received many consultation requests in regard to this pandemic.

While we are happy to report that most employers are behaving responsibly, a minority of language schools are laying off part time workers and refusing to pay the cancellation allowance of at least 60% of average wages.

Basically, they are off-loading their financial woes on those least able to afford it.

This increase in consultations has meant that we are not as quick in responding to emails and telephone calls and we ask for everyone's patience.

In a crisis situation like this, the work we do in the community as a whole is important and while member concerns are always a priority, we are sure that union members all support the vital work we are doing in the language industry, in both the for profit and schools sectors.

line breakA. The Short Term

We believe that protecting the health and financial security of all workers must be the first concern of all.

First, it should be pointed out that the employer has a responsibility to ensure the safety and health of workers based on the Industrial Safety and Health Act.

We receive calls from members who have totally different views on the use of masks for protection.

There are those who want to know how to refuse employer orders to wear a mask and even want to refuse their students the right to wear a mask, to those who are demanding masks for all in the workplace and refusing homemade masks provided by employers as they doubt their effectiveness.

Whether a hard-line should be drawn over masks is something each workplace branch must decide on depending on the size of classrooms, numbers of student, and proximity of classroom members, etc.

Where mask use is a prerequisite of employment we believe that members should follow this directive and employers should provide the required masks.

One preventative method is clear and that is washing hands with soap or the use of hand sanitisers greatly reduces risks, so all workplaces should make this available along with alcohol based cleaning products to wipe down desks.

Should teachers have to wipe down desks?

Again, we have conflicting demands from members.

What is clear is that someone needs to do this and while workplaces are open, do we want to demand others take these risks for teachers?

We would say no.

line breakB. Demanding Direct Financial Relief To Workers

At employers that have decided to cancel classes, the union will need to demand 100% wage coverage and 60% as a minimum when employers order employees to stay home.

We are concerned though that many employers will start to balk at this and even begin consciously violating the Labour Standards Law which mandates a minimum payment of 60% of the average wage.

Our concern with this is that the Labour Standards Offices, which should be enforcing these payments, are already ineffective and will simply allow employers to violate the law.

Because of this, collective bargaining and direct worker action will become necessary to protect people's livelihoods.


- Eikaiwa (Language Schools)

While language schools have tended to only lay off part timers during this crisis, we are also receiving many calls from full time workers who are being ordered to stay home without a minimum of 60% of wages as mandated by the Labour Standards Law.

We must demand 100% wage protection from these employers especially as they tend to attack those least able to fight back, part timers, who are often in very precarious work situations and can least afford to lose any wages.

100% is not unreasonable as GABA which just came off a three-week total closure, was able to do this, and we believe that the other main language schools are also in a strong enough financial position to do so.

Are online lessons the answer?

Some schools are in a stronger position to do this than others, especially schools that focus on man-to-man lessons like GABA and Berlitz.

Companies must start looking into this if the pandemic worsens.
 

- Dispatched Workers To Private Enterprises And Kindergartens

This is one area which we are watching closely as it appears these places are cutting work for teachers especially as many of these workers are part timers.

We are concerned about one major employer especially.

Despite our discussions with them, they are holding out on the need to compensate teachers who have lost classes due to client cancellations.

We will hear more from them by the end of March when they must make a decision about payment.

If they fail to pay, the union will begin demands for prosecution at the Labour Standards Office, the Labour Bureau, and even the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Labour.
 

- ALT Dispatch & Direct Hire ALTs

At this moment we have not heard of employers refusing to pay wages in the case of cancellations.

One school had notified teachers that they wouldn’t be paying but after being contacted by the General Union did a complete 180 degree turn.

One reason for this “generosity” is because boards of education appear to be honouring and paying the full value of their contracts to dispatchers.

Dispatched ALTs and direct hire ALTs also appear to be attending work even though they have nothing to do.

In these cases, the union can demand that those with nothing specific to do in their workplaces be allowed to work from home as per the 28 February notice issued by the Ministry of Education, Technology, Culture, and Sports (MEXT).
 

- Universities And Private Schools (Elementary/Junior/Senior High Schools)

Thus far, we have heard of no employer ordering teachers to stay home with no or reduced wages.

Even though the shutdown of schools affected the Private Schools it appears all teachers, including part timers, have been being paid.

Universities which will put off the opening of the spring semester need to be watched but it does not appear that they are gearing up for layoffs.

One thing that will need to be watched is how make up lessons are used to extend the term and/or if the government reduces the number of classes (15 per semester in universities) necessary for a full curriculum.

It is clear that teachers will not be able to teach "make-up classes" for all those missed with the late start.

We should demand that schools take a flexible approach, for example allowing assignments to be set and marked, instead of a make-up class.

Again, if teachers are not actually working in these schools, they should also take notice of the 28 February MEXT notice and let teachers work from home.
 

- Workers With Compromised Immune Systems

Elderly workers and those with already compromised immune systems must be allowed to stay safe during this crisis and the General Union will need to intervene in any workplace where members in vulnerable situations are penalised because they need to stay away from work.

line breakC. Direct Financial Aid To Workers - Not Employers

Governments all over the world, including Japan are putting money in the hands of companies in the hope that they will use this money to keep people working or pay wages during closures.

This does not work.

The Abe government has already set up a plan that will pay companies 8,330 yen per day if they allow parents to stay home and take care of their kids and pay them 100% of their wages.

As of today, every employer the union has asked about this has laughed.

In the industries where the GU is active, employers would lose money because a day’s wages are higher than the maximum subsidy.

This proves that we cannot rely on employers and relief must be directed at workers.


◆ All medical costs related to coronavirus must be covered by the state regardless of the individual's health insurance.

◆ While those on shakai hoken/shigakukyosai will have 60% of their wages covered if they are ordered to quarantine or are ordered by doctors not to work during this crisis (through the "accident and illness" allowance), others, including those that employers have consciously prevented from joining shakai hoken will have no wage protection.

During this time, all working residents of Japan must be treated equally.

At the time of this writing we now know that the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Labour as issued a notice to local governments managing Kokumin Kenko Hoken to provide 60% of wages in case of coronavirus infection similar to the "accident and illness" allowance in shakai hoken.


◆Protection of wages in cases of bankruptcy or dismissals. Workers who are enrolled in unemployment insurance (those working 20 hours per week at one employer) will receive wage protection, but many part timers (and others who employers just refuse to enrol) will not have any wage protection.

Again, all working residents must be treated equally during this crisis.

Furthermore, length of benefits must not be tied to length of employment or age, but need to continue until this crisis passes and new employment can be secured.


◆Employees who are refused wage protection by their employers during layoffs should not have to rely on an overburdened and ineffective labour standards office to secure payment, a new fund must be made available offering immediate payment and recalcitrant employers must be punished and taxed to cover these workers.

line breakD. But Who Will Be Able To Pay For All These Things?

We must not accept that there is not enough money to pay for this crisis.

After the Tohoku earthquake the government implemented a 2.1% special income tax on all residents to pay for the clean-up and rebuilding.

This was expressed as a way for all people in the country to help those in need.

It makes it very hard to be against something that appears to be fair in order to help those in need, but just because it's the same amount for all doesn't make it fair; taxes should redistribute wealth through society.

There is a better way.

As reported by Bloomberg News in September 2019, Japanese companies now sit on a mountain of cash worth 506.4 trillion yen which is socked away for a rainy day.

Well, it's now raining quite heavily.

This money, squirrelled away with the help of the government’s policy of corporate tax reduction for years, does nothing to help workers.

A simple tax on this cash on hand would easily pay for the costs of coronavirus.

Let’s make sure companies pay their fair share during this crisis, and subsidies are not wasted on companies that can more than continue paying full wages for all the employees.

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E. More Time Testing And Less Time Thinking About The Olympics

It is absurd to think that in the middle of this, while we’re looking at a potential explosion of new cases, that up until a few days ago the government was still even considering inviting people from all around the world to sit together in big groups and ride the already crowded subways and trains in the capital.

While many have even cancelled simple events like Hanami both as a preventative step and as a recognition of the seriousness of the events around us, Abe was still insisting that he'd organise a circus in one of the most congested cities on earth while people are dying around him.

In fact, there are many concerns that the number of cases of coronavirus were being kept artificially low through a lack of testing, solely in order to make the case to go ahead and hold the games.

As of 20 March, South Korea has tested 270,000 people (one test per 185 people) while Japan, with double the population, has only tested 16,484 people (about one test per 7,600 people).

Let’s put people ahead of entertainment and international stardom for Abe and demand bread not circuses.

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F. The General Union

In the meantime, the union continues to function as usual dealing with member issues and many year end negotiations are still being held.

It appears that for some employers it's business as usual and we still have the same number of complaints over unilateral dismissals, harassment by managers, threats to withhold wages, etc.
 

- Staffing

In order to make sure union staff are available to help you, we have asked that staff work from home as much as possible to avoid become infected.

Email will get you an answer a little quicker than leaving a message so if you call and no one answers, please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 

- General Union Meetings

While all union activity is still currently underway we have made plans for upcoming meetings especially Branch AGMs in April and May and the union's whole Annual General Meeting on 24 May.

There will be an announcement shortly on whether branch AGMs should move to an all skype format, and then later we will also consider the 24 May all-in-one AGM.
 

- Union Dues & Joining

For those who have lost their employment either fully or partially, please let us know to so we can offer either a dues amnesty or reduction.

Even if you are on dues checkoff or other form of automatic payment we can help by offering you cash back on future paid dues so as not to have to start and stop automatic payments.

Question about dues? Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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G. The Union Remains Open To All.

Joining the union makes sure that not only are your rights protected but that our doors remain open to help all.

Our commitment to all the workers in the industry remains strong and no one wants to see our union refusing help to those who can't pay or aren't yet ready to join.

Our work for everyone is an expression of the solidarity the trade union movement is known throughout the world.

By joining, you enable us to do more for everyone.

Even if you can't afford it at the moment due to a job loss, you are still welcome to join the union under a dues amnesty or dues reduction until you are working again.

Don't forget to join at: www.generalunion.org/join-the-gu


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