Private Language Schools

Questions for GABA Corporation

questions 2As we enter the winter of 2021-22, the General Union continues to raise issues with Gaba regarding COVID-19, health and safety in the workplace, and transparency.

As of mid-October 2021 the official COVID cases in Japan have dropped, although deaths are still averaging dozens a day. Gaba has improved its protective measures over the last year and a half, which is good to see. It placed signs about correct mask-wearing, corrected clients who didnt wear masks correctly and required everyone in the LS to wear non-woven masks for better protection.

Unfortunately, the fifth wave of summer 2021 saw a large spike in cases, with not all serious cases able to be hospitalized and many deaths, a number of which should have been prevented. There were a number of cases related to Gaba Learning Studios. While the fifth wave has subsided, COVID has not disappeared, and the authorities are preparing for a possible sixth wave.

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General Union ECC Branch: Solidarity & Action Online Rally

The ECC Branch of the General Union has called two strikes for 30 October and 6 November and will be holding a Rally for Solidarity and to Call Out ECC on Sunday, 17 October at 10am and 8pm.

ALL General Union members are urged to come for a show of support for their union mates at ECC.

The General Union ECC Branch is the largest branch in the General Union. As such, they have played a pivotal role in shaping the fight for eikaiwa workers’ rights in the language teaching industry in Japan.

A victory for the GU anywhere is a victory for union members everywhere! Showing that we stick together wherever we work, puts all employers on notice!

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Shots at Eikaiwa

In early July, Before the vaccine supplies issues occurred, we sent a letter to the six main Eikaiwas AEON, Berlitz, ECC, GABA, Nova and Shane recommending what they should do to safeguard their workers’ health and economic wellbeing during the vaccine process. We recommended getting the vaccine should be considered worktime (either paid or being vaccinated during work time) and paid time off for any side effects. This is similar to what companies such as Mitsubishi Electric Corp, Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance, Yahoo Japan, Soft Bank and Mercari Co already did back in May 

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ECC Teachers Vote to Strike!

The ECC Branch of the General Union – the single largest workplace branch in the General Union – has voted to go on strike after ECC’s management repeatedly rejected workers’ demands centered on employee health, pay, and mandatory “holiday make-up” workdays.

The vote was held after a spirited two-hour, all-member meeting Sunday, August 30th. The broad sentiment of attendees was that ECC failed to show sympathy or even fairness for its employees at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is endangering teachers’ health as well as creating classroom chaos with unclear and unpopular policies.

From the list of demands ranging from long commute allowances to fair treatment of non-limited term contract workers, the leading demand of unionized teachers is the abolition of extra workdays that teachers are required to do to “make up” for national holidays that fall on their normal workdays.

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Demanding Safety at GABA

safety firstThe COVID-19 pandemic is continuing with record cases in Japan, especially in the Tokyo area. The General Union believes that protecting workers health and economic position is the top priority.

So, we have submitted demands to GABA that we believe protect the health of clients, instructors and staff. As well as maintaining a livable income for Gaba Instructors.

These demands include protecting workers current rates of payment if they reduce their lessons for the purposes of safety, make the current difficult lesson cancellation system simpler and efficient, make sure air flow is at a premium, ensure covid-19 testing is done above the standards of the public health center and promote transparency for all covid19 cases at a GABA LS.

With GABA workers and the General Union working together we believe can make the workplace safer for all.

A list of the demands can be seen here.

COVID-19 Safety at Gaba Corporation

safety1stThe General Union remains concerned about COVID-19 safety measures and transparency at Gaba Corporation. The union has been raising these issues since February 2020.

The company has taken some measures to improve safety, but has refused to allow teleworking, or even for instructors to only teach online lessons in the Learning Studio and not teach face-to-face lessons.

Japan continues to experience high numbers of COVID-19 cases. As of July 1st, it has an official death toll of 14,735. 11,276 of these were in 2021, which is only half over. The spread of the more infectious variants is a concern, especially as Gaba allows clients to drink in lessons, which involves removing their mask while sitting right next to the instructor.

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Just in Time for Summer - Vaccination Roll Out

Two months ago, in response to the state of emergency, the General Union issued a letter of inquiry to Japan’s six largest private English teaching companies (Aeon, NOVA, GABA, Shane, ECC, and Berlitz) asking them how they were going to protect the safety of their workers. Their responses were half-cooked at best, but we continued to fight to protect our members and win important concessions across Japan. 

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Eikaiwas and the Pandemic: Much Talk, Little Action – But we demand more!

The corona virus is something we are all sick of but with the third state of emergency in progress. We asked the six major eikaiwas in Japan what they are doing to prevent infection as well as requesting them to take measures that protect our members livelihoods in their time of need (aside from what the union had already forced many of them to do).

The six main eikaiwas we approached were: AEON, Berlitz, ECC, GABA, Nova and Shane.

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We Demand Safety First at GABA

The General Union has been raising safety issues with Gaba Corporation for many years, and this is a concern more than ever since the start of last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

This pandemic is not over and is getting worse in Japan. In all of 2020, Japan's official death toll was 3,459. It is only May 2021 and there have been over 8000 (official) deaths this year in Japan.

It is impossible to social distance inside a Gaba booth, where clients and instructors are speaking in a place with poor ventilation, usually about 90cm from each other. Wearing masks is not enough especially as masks do not block all viral particles. Wearing only a plastic face shield in online lessons creates risks for others in the Learning Studio.

As General Union members at GABA our job is to reduce COVID risk and therefore reduce the risk of death or serious illness. We want to keep ALL GABA employees and clients as safe as possible.

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Unbelievable. Uncooperative. Unacceptable. NOVA Never Stops Surprising

The union entered our September 11th collective bargaining session with a positive attitude: NOVA, after a summer of strikes, had told us that they wanted to build a positive relationship with the union.

However, our hope for reaching an agreement on a number of issues (especially those regarding the pandemic) was deflated almost as soon as the talks began.

We had hoped that NOVA, like other employers in the language industry, would agree to a system to help prevent incidents of coronavirus infection by establishing an information sharing system with the union.

At other language school employers, the union sends a weekly list of issues in the schools which are potentially hazardous in regards to coronavirus prevention.

Basically, the union uses the many eyes of union members to make sure the schools are doing as much as possible to keep teachers, staff, and students, safe.

ECC commented that they were, "not only happy that the union initiated this system, but thankful for the union's full cooperation."

Keep reading and see if you can spot the difference between ECC and NOVA's response to our offer of help...

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Help us make GABA a better workplace for all by signing the petition

You too can back the union demands by signing our petition at www.bit.ly/gabapetition.

The recent coronavirus outbreak has highlighted serious inadequacies such as a lack of physical and financial security for Gaba instructors. The company has faced various disasters such as the March 11th 2011 triple disaster, Typhoon Hagibis #19 in 2019, and this year’s COVID-19 pandemic.

While Gaba continually makes changes to the contract to suit the operational concerns of the company, such as the introduction of the recent online lessons, Gaba does not likewise amend the contract to respond to important issues for instructors.

When it responds to these, it does so on an ad hoc basis in the form of temporary changes such as with a “Letter of Understanding” which also does not fully take into consideration the voices of instructors. These are also done unilaterally.

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GABA: COVID-19 Case At Ikebukuro Learning Studio

On Monday August 10th, GABA closed its Ikebukuro Learning Studio (LS) after an instructor contracted COVID-19.

The LS was closed on the evening of August 10th, the whole day of August 11th, and then extended to August 12th.

On August 13th, the LS opened for lessons again.

GABA’s transparency in this case has improved from the Omotesando LS case, where only Omotesando instructors were told about an ill client at their LS, without details, and the Jiyugaoka LS case, where a client with COVID-19 was hospitalized and passed away shortly after taking GABA lessons.

In that case, GABA never officially informed instructors or staff, nor did it publish anything on its website.

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3 Student Lessons - Brought To You By The NOVA Branch Strikers

union winAfter a 100 lesson strike on August 1st, and a 150+ lesson strike on August 8th, NOVA has finally made some worthwhile concessions to the union members.

The union has received notice that lessons for adults will be reduced to a maximum of three adult students from August 16th, and kids classes will be reduced to 5 children from October 1st.

This will go a long way, along with other measures, to reduce the risk of the virus.

The union will also be submitting new demands to improve social distancing for union members.

Not only that, but this was achieved with only 35 people going on strike!

In addition, two of the members who were striking had previously been given a notice of contract non-renewals, and had the very same notices withdrawn DURING the strikes.

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August 1st, 2020: NOVA Members Strike 100 Classes! What's Next?

Asked how she felt about being part of the largest strike to hit NOVA, tone union member answered, "I'm not proud of having to do this to NOVA. We're desperate. But I am not ashamed of standing up for other teachers', staff's, and students' safety."

As COVID-19 restarts its surge across Japan, and July 31st brought another record-breaking day of infections, NOVA union members went on strike across Japan, registering 100 struck classes.

After five rounds of collective bargaining - with most emphasis being placed on safety during the pandemic - no substantial agreement could be reached.

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GABA: Union Demands More Transparency Over COVID-19 Concerns

The General Union has learned that a client from Gaba Corporation's Jiyugaoka Learning Studio (LS) passed away from COVID-19.

Gaba Corporation has not communicated this to instructors, regular staff, or anyone else.

According to the WHO guidelines used by Japan's Public Health Centers, people should be traced from two days before the onset of disease.

Regardless of these guidelines, the company should have informed instructors and all staff of what occurred, especially as it was already aware of the Omotesando case.

It is unacceptable to just ignore what happened and not tell anyone.

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Gaba Corporation Hides COVID-19 Case From Instructors

gaba covid 19As prefectures across Japan leave the state of emergency, Gaba Corporation is reopening its Learning Studios, and the union hopes for the best.

However, it is concerned about something that has come to light and the company's response to it:

The company avoided telling instructors about a COVID-19 case that occurred at the company.

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NOVA: Safety Survey, Public Meeting, & STRIKE

Is your workplace safe during coronavirus? Take the workplace safety survey.
 
Want more information on the union and how you can force NOVA to take coronavirus more seriously? Attend open meeting, Saturday, 2 May at 20:00

Members vote overwhelmingly to strike - press picks up story
 
Nova Members of the General Union have voted overwhelmingly to take strike action against NOVA if demands for work at home and other issues are not resolved after our next collective bargaining session.

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Looking Out For Instructors At Gaba Corporation

In 2020 Japan, like many countries around the world, has been grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The General Union has been in contact with Gaba Corporation about this since February, before the first Learning Studio shutdown.

We have been following up issues of safety and financial security as the situation has developed.

The health and safety of instructors, clients and staff is the top priority for the General Union.

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Strike NOVA!

Emergency Meeting for NOVA members and other instructors/staff

Friday, 24 April at 10:00 and 22:00 (RSVP HERE)

Collective bargaining on Wednesday yielded very little. Usually collective bargaining does not deliver much the first time, but since we are racing the clock, we do not have time to spend weeks talking and must prepare for some activity on our part that will move the company to reason. So, we believe it is time to take a strike vote. This is rather fast, but the situation is urgent. At the meetings on Friday, we will discuss the situation and what a strike means in Japan and then ballot members to decide.

Some information about strikes:

  • They cannot fine you for striking, like they do with the independent contractors who take time off.
  • They cannot fine you for striking, like they do if you apply later than a month for paid leave.
  • Strikes are probably the most protected of trade union activities in Japan and you cannot legally be punished for taking part.

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We Demand NOVA Shutdown And Pay Workers To Work At Home. Please Email And Share!

#shutdownNOVA #NOVApay100 

You can help the General Union and those working at NOVA by immediately sending an email to NOVA Holdings and NOVA, asking them to meet the union's demands:

CAMPAIGN HAS NOW ENDED

Union Demands to NOVA Holdings and NOVA:

  • Close NOVA branches and pay 100% to work from home.

  • If there is insufficient work, use the employment adjustment fund subsidies to cover wages for those not working.

  • No fines for contractors choosing to not work and return all fines paid to date to current contractors.

  • Immediately stop the subcontracting system and make these workers employees so if there is not enough work NOVA can use the employment adjust fund. If not possible, NOVA should pay 100 percent of the guarantee if there is no work.

  • Immediately stop all cross-prefecture travel for employees and contractors.

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NOVA, "Freelancers", and the Coronavirus

no vaThe epidemic is throwing into sharp relief some of tricks used by companies; for what is merely anti-social and exploitative in normal times is potentially deadly in an epidemic.

Employers have long used spurious "freelance" contracts in an attempt to evade labour laws and obligations to enroll people in the pension and health insurance.

One of those companies is NOVA.

As we have reported previously, NOVA are presently telling teachers to work or stay at home without pay, even though language conversation classes are hardly an essential service.

The General Union has argued that these “contractors” are in reality workers - and the Nagoya District Court agrees with us.

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General Union Puts NOVA On Notice

Will the Neyagawa City Board of Education be hit by the first ever strike of dispatch ALTs in western Japan?

Could you live on 93,000 a month? Well, by some magical formula and/or equation that is known to only NOVA, ALTs hibernate in August.

ALTs (they apparently believe) also eat less than usual in December, January, and March, but a bit more than they do August, as they're only in a state of semi-hibernation during these months.

We all know NOVA's rationale, and some at this point might even believe it's fair to pay less because the teachers are working less during these months.

However, are these ALTs really "part-timers"?

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Making Berlitz Better

Union members at Berlitz became the second union branch to submit demands for a 2% increase in pay (over and above their regular evaluated pay increases) to offset the increases in the consumption tax since 2014.

Members believe that while pay has increased a little based on their individual evaluations, the importance of this pay raise, meant to reward performance only, is lost if is eroded by tax increases. Therefore, members are asking for a pay increase to rebalance their salaries from when the sales tax rate doubled from 5% to 10%.

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Santa Claus Prepares for Annual ECC Visit

On 15 December ECC members at the General Union (western Japan and Tokai) and Tokyo Roso (Kanto area) held a joint branch meeting to discuss and decide our demands for the 2020 academic year. 

These demands are usually submitted around this time of the year and when we called the company to say that we were sending our demands on the week of the 23rd of December, they joked that it was the annual Christmas present from the union. So we hope readers will allow us the kitschy image we've used in this article.

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Safety at GABA

earthquake drill2019 has seen a number of news stories that relate to safety. In the course of daily life there are various workplace accidents and disasters even in office-style workplaces.

Since the Tohoku Earthquake on 11 March 2011, the General Union Gaba Branch has been raising the issue of safety preparations at Gaba as the company didn’t seem to be at all prepared for such a disaster.

The company has responded to the union’s concerns by conducting semi-regular evacuation drills at Learning Studios and has provided emergency supplies to all lesson booths.

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Harassment by Gaba Clients - What You Can Do if It Happens

gaba harassmentFor some years, the General Union's Gaba branch has been following up the issue of clients harassing instructors.

After the union repeatedly raised the issue, company published guidelines about blocking clients, which can be found buried away under "Instructor Policy" >> "Professionalism" >> "Inappropriate Behavior Instructor policy" (see below).

Unless instructors take a very deep dive into the back pages of the Gaba site they are unlikely to find this.

Things have improved somewhat, but talking to new instructors coming into the system makes it clear that this issue is still not being adequately covered.

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Good News for Berlitz Members as Union Improves Pay and Other Conditions

On Friday, October 12th, collective bargaining for 2019 working conditions finally ended, and both parties concluded a collective agreement.

This is the first ever collective agreement with Berlitz that offers pay increases outside of the current evaluated pay increase system.

While the agreement is limited in scope and only covers some members who were not eligible for an evaluation or were maxed out on pay increases, it is a major breakthrough at a company who has only ever given pay increases based on evaluation.

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Union Wins At Nagoya District Court: Nova's "Independent Contractors" Actually Employees

● Union members on individual contractor agreements ruled to be employees

● Court orders payment of damages to loss of paid holidays under the Labour Standards Law.

● Court also orders damages for failure to enrol in health and pension insurance.

● Nagoya court rules that 40 lesson contract employees are actually eligible for enrolment in health and pension insurance.

A judgement in a case filed against NOVA by six general union members in 2016 was handed down on September 24th (2019).

Nova employed the six members as independent contractors to work as teachers right alongside employees who were also teachers. Nova has gradually tried to increase the number of contractors working as teachers in order to weaken employment rights.

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September 8th - Language Industry Shunto 2020 Organising Meeting

Union leaders from around Japan representing workers at major language schools will meet to start planning Shunto 2020.

The first stage of planning will be creating a comprehensive assessment of working conditions at all the major schools.

Our goal is to make sure the highest common denominator is used at all schools to set working conditions, as opposed to the race to the bottom that employers want to force on us. 

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Gaba Corporation Safety Preparation Survey

The General Union has raised safety issues with Gaba on many occasions, resulting in more emergency drills and emergency supplies being provided for all lesson booths.

In light of the recent horrific fire in Kyoto resulting in a large number of deaths, and the general possibility of fire, earthquakes and other dangers, we would like to check in with instructors about the current safety situation at Gaba.

We hope that you'll take this quick and anonymous survey as we would love to hear from as many people working at Gaba as possible.

Additional information