News

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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Fukuoka City ALTs and the Mysterious Case of the Missing Millions and Thousands of Classes

Via the Fukuoka General Union, here's a short video on the situation of ALTs in Fukuoka.

We imagine that the information in the video covers a lot more ALTs than just those in Fukuoka. 

Do you see your own situation in this video? Let us know - especially if you want to do something about it.

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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Kobe Shoin Women's University Sued At Osaka Labour Commission

Uncooperative And Uncompromising: Kobe Shoin Wins Trip To Osaka

In the middle of a pandemic and state of emergency, Kobe Shoin Women's University did what no other university, board of education, or private company have done: they refused to hold negotiations online.

Not only did we ask for collective bargaining in the middle of a pandemic, the demands themselves were over keeping union members online after the state of emergency ended on 11 May.

Their answer? “Sure we'll meet you. Come to our university in Hyogo Prefecture after 19:00 and we'll be happy to chat."

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Hands Off! Don't touch our Koma!

Union launches campaign for NO REDUCTION in 2022 koma!

Every year since 2011, about this time of year the union begins thinking about our members' koma in the next year and how to prevent them from being reduced.

This is because we decided that the best way to prevent cuts in koma is not to wait till they are lost, but to act first. We do this by surveying members to check which university they want to declare their union membership to as part of our union demands for NO REDUCTION in their next year's koma. Most universities have reacted very well to this by not cutting union members’ koma.

For example, in the 2020 academic year...

Demands sent to: 37 universities covering 125 member jobs
No koma cuts: 34 universities covering 118 member jobs
Koma cut: 3 universities covering 6 member jobs

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Twice Aichi Pref Uni Has Backed Down Against the GU

Now it’s Time to Overturn the 20% Pay Cut & Win a Big Pay Rise for Japanese non-regular workers

(click the image to download a PDF for your friends)

Both Japanese and foreign non-regular workers at Aichi Prefectural University have something big in common: Twenty percent (or one-fifth) of your per-koma pay is what binds you together.

APU hopes that that they can use nationality to divide you and keep wages low, our union wants to get you together to improve your working life!

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Part-Time At A Doshisha University? Your Time Might Be Limited...

The union has made some progress in negotiations with Doshisha University and Doshisha Women's College, mainly in clearing up a previously unanswered mystery: how long can a part-timer work at Doshisha?

And the answer is...

It depends on when you were hired.

Doshisha has finally clarified that those hired from 1 April 2016 are limited to nine renewals, and those hired before have no limitation on their renewals.

In collective bargaining, Doshisha maintained that all teachers had a nine-renewal limit. We finally now have a clear answer to the question.

But why a nine-renewal limit?

It sounds strange to us, and we know it sounds strange to Doshisha part-timers who were hired in 2016.

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Osaka Prefecture Calls On Universities To Halt Face-To-Face Classes

At a press conference on 13th of April, amid a rapid growth of COVID-19 infections in the Osaka area, prefectural governor Yoshimura announced new measures to fight the pandemic.

These included a request for schools to stop club activities and for universities to suspend face to face classes and move to online classes.

Whilst for now this is only in the Osaka, area it marks a major break from the policy of the Education Ministry which had been pushing universities to teach at least 70% of classes online - with even teachers with pre-existing conditions (making them more vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus) being pressured into teaching face-to-face.

The reversal was based on the failure of the existing policies of early closing of drinking/dining establishments to halt the spread. The rapid spread of the virus threatens to collapse the local health care system with over 92% of beds now full.

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Union Pushes Back As Kindai University's Policy Of "Business As Usual" Puts Members At Risk

kindai smallIn February, the General Union Kindai Branch held collective bargaining session with Kindai University, during which we demanded that teachers be given the option of teaching online if they had medical conditions that put them at increased risk of contracting COVID and/or becoming severely ill.

At the time, Kindai told us that they were still uncertain of their policies for the upcoming semester, and we were alarmed by the suggestion that a medical certificate would not be sufficient and that an interview with one of their administrative staff would be required.

Then began what seemed to be a never ending effort to delay and stonewall the talks and their policy decisions in an attempt (we believe) to discourage teachers from applying for exemptions at all - and to prevent a rush of applications that they feared may eventuate if word got out that some teachers had been granted exemptions several weeks before the semester commenced.

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Union Prepares Dispute Against Doshisha

For many months now the union has been trying to settle a number of different problems with Doshisha.

As you may know, Doshisha is a major and important institution in the Kansai area and as an organisation with a good reputation.

The union expects that they take their labour relations seriously and act responsibly to meet their obligations to their employees. 

As you can imagine we were shocked when Doshisha answered these obligations with intransigence and even fired back with contract non-renewals of union members working in the girls junior and senior high school.

So what problems was the union trying to settle?

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The GU knows what it's talking about when it comes to unlimited term contracts at universities

The union has been involved at numerous workplaces dealing with universities' refusal to grant unlimited term contracts after 5 years as per the changes to the Labour Contract Law (see here for more information on this law)

Many universities are holding out by using an exception granted to the universities which lets them wait till after the tenth year to grant an unlimited term contract. But this exception ISN'T in all cases and ISN'T for all instructors teaching in a university. Famously, even Tokyo University did a U-turn on this when challenged by it's union.

Basically, the instructor must be hired under any of the three categories outlined in the "Act on Term of Office of University Teachers" (often referred to as NINKI-TSUKI or NINKI-HO) or an of the three categories in the "Act on Revitalisation of Science and Technology/Inovation Creation", and told very clearly upon hiring, in writing, which category they fall into.

Most of the universities that we deal with have usually not done this at all, or have simply written the name of the act (or other such language) in the contract.

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Unlimited Term Contracts at Universities

The General Union, NUGW Tokyo Nambu, and Fukuoka General Union ran a seminar on 6 December for university teachers about unlimited term contracts.

Did you know that as of 2018, those having worked continuously for five years at the same university are eligible for an unlimited term contract?

Q: Unlimited term contract (UTC)? What’s that?

It’s an employment contract without an arbitrary end date and is a new right that came along with an amendment to the Labour Contract Law in 2013.

Many of us currently work on one-year contracts which require a renewal year to year, but a UTC requires no renewal. This means that if an employer wants to get rid of you, basically they would have to fire you; not just wait out the year and then refuse to give you another contract.

Does this mean you have a job for life with the exact number of koma on the same exact day and time? No, but it does mean that if all remains the same (student numbers, curriculum, etc) you can keep working and we would argue, should be able to retain your koma (the latter part has still to be tested out in court).

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Help Us Launch "A New Deal for ALTs"

Take the 2-minute ALT survey at www.bit.ly/surveyALT.

A common saying in the ALT world is “Everyone’s situation is different,” and this is very true. Our situation truly is different from the regular, licensed, teachers we work with every day. We are in the school, but are often not part of the school.

We are subjected to odd requirements. Many of us are not enrolled in the social safety nets that our fellow teachers are, especially those employed as dispatch ALTs.

We are not given bonuses (or if we are, we suddenly find our regular pay being cut to make up for it). We are not afforded the stability of a regular contract. Many are simply not paid enough to live in Japan while working a single job.

In short, we are deeply concerned that ALT jobs are being turned into poverty jobs. This not only affects the ALTs' livelihood, but also the quality of ALT programmes as many can simply no longer afford to be an ALT regardless of their passion for the work and their dedication to the students.

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University & College Pandemic Response - UPDATED

The General Union sent information requests to 75 universities and senmon gakko across Japan where members and consultees work.

We asked the following:

1. That all universities do not restart face-to-face classes from the second semester.

2. That teachers, especially those with either certified or uncertified underlying mental or physical health conditions or due to a more advanced age, or live with others in the same situation, be allowed to teach online.

3. As hybrid approaches that use both online and face-to-face lessons put a lot of extra burden on teachers, teachers not be required to prepare for hybrid approaches.

4. That your university be transparent in reporting outbreaks of Coronavirus at the institution" and/or "among faculties, students and staff".

Approximately one-third have responded, you can find the information of the universities we wrote to and those that responded by clicking here.

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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Is GETTING PAID ON TIME Too Much To Ask For At NPO GLAD? (OP-ED)

This is what I (a member of the General Union) asked myself when I worked there.

For the past couple of years, the union has been dealing with one primary issue at this ALT dispatch company: the delayed payment of wages.

For me it started like this. Just before my salary was due, I received an email from the company director claiming that they had some vague banking problems that were causing delays.

Have you ever heard of something like this before? To me it sounded like something else...

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New 2020 System Leads To Wage Cuts For ALTs

alt cuts money august 2020The General Union has been dealing with consultations and grievances from union and non-union members at many different boards of education regarding pay cuts since the new “KAIKEI NENDO NINYO SHOKUIN” system went into place for direct-hire ALTs.

As part of the new system, bonuses are allowed (but not mandated), so many boards of education have started to pay bonuses in June and December. Great!

Unfortunately, even with bonuses, many people have seen their salaries stay the same as they were before the “KAIKEI NENDO NINYO SHOKUIN” system took effect, and some have even seen their salary reduced...

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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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Demands Sent To 75 Universities And Colleges To Stop Face-to-Face Lessons

stop face to faceAfter a meeting attended by union members working in universities and professional training colleges (senmon gakko), due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the General Union has submitted demands to 75 universities.

You can find the responses as they come in by clicking here.

Union members view the possibility of a return to face-to face-lessons amidst an explosive new growth in coronavirus infections with both anxiety and alarm.

While we understand that many universities are being pressured by MEXT and even parents to reopen campuses as soon as possible, if university campuses resume face-to-face lessons thousands of employees and students will be put at risk.

There is now considerable evidence that university age students, although less likely to develop serious symptoms, can be a major vector in the spread of the virus to those working in universities, to their classmates, and to their families.

Our members and our union believe that the resumption of on-campus classes at the present time would be a disastrous move from the standpoint of public health.

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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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Obituary: Remembering Yamahara Katsuji 1947 - 2020

He was known popularly to General Union members simply as Yamahara. No mister, no sir; just affectionately called Yamahara - and one of the most unpretentious people you could have ever met.

On 23 July 2020, Yamahara passed away quietly at his home 73 years after his birth in Sumiyoshi-ku, Osaka.

A union organiser since finishing school, Yamahara worked for many years for the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Sohyo) affiliated Metal and Machinery Workers Union (Zenkin) until its merger into the Japan Trade Union Confederation (Rengo).

During this time, he was a prominent Kansai area organiser not only due to his excellent strategies and tactics in protecting workers’ rights and lives, but also for his continuous efforts in strengthening ties between Japanese and international workers especially in Asia.

In his mid-forties, while many gave up on the idea that the Japanese labour movement could remain vibrant, he left Zenkin in order to organise a union that would be there for all workers and founded the General Union in 1991.

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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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Additional information