Interac in the News

This is an archived post from the old General Union Interac Branch website, written by an undeclared union member (thus the nickname rather than the name):

Hi all. Corrector here.

Many of you may have seen this before through the original link on Let’s Japan earlier this year, but I wanted to highlight the story here as well. This report aired on NHK on June 30th, 2007. The first part covers a bit of NOVA (old NOVA that is, not neo/G.Communications/NOVA), and then the second part covers the hardships of some awesome people working as teachers in Chiba under the strangling gauntlet of Interac…

If anyone wants to volunteer to write an English transcript for those who may need/want it, feel free to send it my way and I will post it. Otherwise, you will either have to wait until I have the time, or just visit the aforementioned Let’s Japan entry to get all the details.
Kudos to Shawn for running a great blog/forum.
These videos originally posted and donated to us by several members who are in the video (which should give us plenty of rebroadcasting rights).

We will be posting more surveys, information and entertaining diatribe shortly so stay tuned…

Nova collapse leaves schools without ALTs

As English conversation school chain operator Nova Corp. filed for court protection from creditors under the Corporate Rehabilitation Law last week, schools that have contracts with Nova to dispatch assistant language teachers are scrambling to find substitute teachers or resorting to the use of CDs recorded by native speakers.

“The children were very much looking forward to learning real English as it’s actually used through songs and games from them,” said Shin Naito, headmaster of Yoga Primary School in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.

English classes with ALTs, who are native English speakers, are increasingly popular among schools, which are eyeing the introduction of compulsory English education at primary schools in the future. About 11,000 ALTs were dispatched through education boards to schools nationwide in the 2006 academic year.

The Setagaya Ward Board of Education contracted with Osaka-based Nova to dispatch ALTs to 64 public primary schools in the ward from the 2006 academic year. According to the contract, six teachers from Nova make the rounds of the schools to teach English. The board set aside a budget of 20 million yen for fiscal 2007.

As Nova’s nonpayment of wages came to the fore, the board decided to terminate its contract with Nova on Oct. 23 and started talking with Nova about conditions for the termination. The announcement of Nova’s filing for protection under the law was made while the two sides were still in negotiations. A Nova employee who was in charge of the talks with the board later telephoned the board and said the matter was no longer up to him and that the board should contact the court-appointed administrator.

Currently the board is approaching another firm to dispatch teachers. However, the timing–the middle of an academic year–is not convenient for such an arrangement. The board has no prospect to resume English classes at its schools with native speakers.

“We are consulting with our lawyer about how to deal with Nova,” said an official of the board.


Unpaid salaries case probed

The Osaka Chuo Labor Standards Inspection Office questioned former Nova Corp. President Nozomu Sahashi on Monday on suspicion of having violated the Labor Standards Law by failing to pay salaries to Nova employees, including foreign teachers, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Thursday.

According to sources, Sahashi said he did his best to manage the firm’s cash flow, but failed as a result of a potential sponsor suddenly deciding against making a contribution.

Whether the firm had sufficient funds to pay salaries is expected to be the focal point of the bureau’s efforts to build a case against the school chain, Sahashi, or both.

The bureau plans to investigate the firm’s financial status from the time salary payments were delayed, with support from Nova administrators.

The bureau asked Sahashi several times in October to explain the circumstances behind the salary payment delays, and received a response Monday.

Education boards hit for using contract staff as ALTs

Twenty-three municipal boards of education in Osaka Prefecture are suspected of using native English-speaking contract workers as assistant language teachers and placing them under the control of schools, a possible violation of the Temporary Staffing Services Law, an Osaka-based union announced Thursday.

The Osaka Labor Bureau has instructed six municipal boards of education, including those in Takatsuki, Sakai, Hirakata and Higashi-Osaka, to reconsider the practices, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

A union spokesman said it was legal for the boards to use the contract workers as ALTs as long as they worked at the public schools under the direction of the staffing agencies. But he added that the boards of education had used the temporary workers like dispatch workers, who are under the direct control of schools.

According to the union comprising 550 Japanese and non-Japanese workers, which also provides consultation services for those workers, the 23 municipal boards said they received the contract workers from staffing agencies and let them work at public schools as ALTs, who are required to follow school curriculums and policies.

In January, the union sent questionnaires to all 43 municipal boards of education in the prefecture. Twenty-three said they had used contract workers sent from the agencies as ALTs, the union said.

A 27-year-old teacher who was dispatched to the Hashimoto Municipal Board of Education in Wakayama Prefecture by Zenken said he was given a general orientation about ALTs by the firm before he began working at public schools in the city, adding that he was usually instructed what to do in class by Japanese teachers.

Labour Relations Board Hearing for dismissed ALTs in Kanagawa

In February of 2006, the Kanagawa Board of Education informed all of its 89 Assistant Language Teachers that their contracts would not be renewed, and that the Board would instead be signing a contract with Interac to fill their jobs. Some teachers were offered the chance to keep their jobs, albeit with a new employer and a 15% cut in wages. Some took it, others decided to fight, and the case is now being heard at the Kanagawa Labour Relations Board.

Outsourcing by Boards of Education is an increasing problem throughout Japan, and is just one of the negative trends in the language industry. The teachers, members of NUGW Kanagawa, ask for your support.

If you are free at 5:30 on Wednesday, August 30th, please attend the meeting of the Labour Relations Board, at the Kanagawa Labor Office. The building is a 10-minute walk from Kannai station, through the Yokohama stadium grounds and past the Board of education building, turn right in front of the main post office and left at the next corner. It’s the second building  on the left, next to an office supplies shop.


The hearing usually lasts about 25  minutes or so. Anyone wishing to attend can contact Bill at: stakeschamp AT yahoo DOT com

For more information, see this website:

Interac Demo, Round 2

Over 15 members showed up Saturday morning for the second Interac demonstration. We played music (“You can’ get me cuz I’m in the union…”) and spoke for about 30 minutes, passing out our mark II Interac dispute newsletter.

We set the bullhorn again on the hillock opposite the company. Hundreds of students (probably on their way to Hosei University) passed by and the vast majority took flyers. We also took several poses, including a “j’accuse” stance with us all extending our arms and pointing to the Interac office in imitation of the Memphis balcony in the seconds after Martin Luther King’s assassination.

The day was hot but fun overall. Again the cops came (only one actually) and very politely asked us if we had a labor dispute and how long we would be. After we answered him, he left quietly.

Interac Demonstration

Each Saturday morning Interac offers free Japanese lessons to ALTs at HQ. So we were right back out there Saturday morning with our posters and fliers – this time 17 members. We figured surely Interac wouldn’t cancel an entire class just to avoid the union’s demonstration. Again we had underestimated Interac’s cowardice.

We set the bullhorn facing the firm on a hillock across the road. We spoke our grievances to the morning passers-by. We played an inspiring union song on a CD player that kept flaking out.

Three cops approached and began speaking to Yoko-the only Japanese member of our party. I stepped in, anticipating the usual official harassment. To my surprise, they were polite–even gracious. They asked us two questions: one, “Is this a labor-management dispute?”, and two, “How long will your demo last?” They were quite satisfied with our answers and casually strolled off back up the road.

GS Samantha made a stirring, personal speech, closing with an appeal to Interac to listen to us: “Kiite kudasai.”

Then we sent branch members and guards up to the second floor office-cheering them on. Back down the delegation reported that Interac staff were gone. We felt flattered that Interac would do us the great honor of showing their fear of us. Twice. We continued to pass out fliers accusing the Chairman, Seiichi Matsumoto, of wimpiness and breaking the law.

We finished off our 45-minute demo with a loud shprehicall and music.

This weekend was just the first step for our newest branch, but it was a big one.

Interac runs from collective bargaining

Unable after weeks to get Interac and its slippery Chairman Seiichi Matsumoto to agree to talks…or even to talk…even on the phone, Nambu Interac Branch and several other Nambu activists went to Interac HQ in Iidabashi Friday evening to demand collective bargaining.

We knew Interac HQ operates until 9pm so arriving at 7pm gave us plenty of wiggle room. When we reached the building, however, it was all locked up and the inside lobby was dark. Interac shares the building with several other firms so we were perplexed.

Stepping back we could see lights on the second floor. We pressed the button on the night intercom. Rain was falling steadily.

“This is the Interac union. We’re here for collective bargaining.”

“I didn’t hear anything about it. They all went home already.”
“We can see lights on their floor.”

And so it went – me and an unseen gruff man bickering about the right to pass. He refused to budge and cut the connection. Most of us knew of Interac management’s breathtaking cowardice – but were they such scaredey cats that they would hide in their office till 9? We later learned that they were scareder still.

Concerned that they might use an escape route, we sent a couple of scouts around to scour the base of the building for alternative exits. Garrett found a locked door at the top of a dark stairs.

We were just about to post a sentry there with a cellfone when from the darkness of the lobby a face appeared. Through the locked door he explained how to get to the garage which has an entrance. Being paranoid by nature I left a guard at the door in case the instruction was a ruse to decoy us away from the front door while Interac management snuck out.

The rest of us made our way to the garage entrance where a guard sat behind a desk and window. I prepared to confront him but he hadn’t noticed us so with mouth still poised to speak we walked by.

“Wait a minute. I can’t let you pass,” said a familiar voice.

Our right of passage – not really what this phrase means – evolved into a full-fledged debate: Greg proved he was an employee by showing his gaitoh-shoh (foreign registration card); the guard demonstrated that Interac had split by letting the phone ring.

Heated debate gave way to negotiations. I said let us go up and check the second floor. The guard agreed on condition that one person alone go and that I agree not to disturb any other company.

When the elevator doors opened I saw that Interac was indeed closed for business. Everything was dark, locked and brand new signs said, “No unauthorized personnel!” in Japanese and English. The lights we had seen from outside were at the company next door.

Back down at the underground garage level I conceded to the guard that Interac had left. The guard then made an admission of his own: “Well, they usually work till 9 but this evening they were in quite a hurry to leave by 6. They even asked me to hold a package that was to be picked up after they left.” The guard even apologized for his arrogance. I apologized and explained our predicament. I left my calling card.

So the entire HQ staff of the nation’s largest ALT dispatcher skedaddled out of work three hours early to avoid talking to five of their employees. I realized that Interac’s savvy anti-union strategy had a name: Operation Run-For-The-Hills.

Foreign Teachers’ Concerns Voiced at Diet Hearings

On Friday 15 April, foreign teachers, members of NUGW Tokyo Nambu branch unions, assembled in a boisterous demonstration opposite the Diet building in Tokyo. Union members from Fukuoka, Iwate, Kobe, and Nagoya, as well as over 30 participants from Kanto, were present. “Being here really does make a difference,” said Louis Carlet, Nambu Deputy Secretary-General. Carlet introduced nine members currently in dispute and Diet Representative Kazuo Inoue, who pledged his commitment to human rights and to improving the working conditions of foreign teachers in Japan.

In the following hearing, NUGW members were supported by Democratic Party of Japan Representatives Inoue and Chiemi Kobayashi in quizzing seven officials from the ministries of Health, Labour and Welfare, and Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). In opening remarks, Representative Kobayashi detailed problems faced by minorities in Japan, including the plight of refugees, the media emphasis on crimes by foreigners, and the need for greater understanding and exchange at the personal level.

As discussions got under way, Louis Carlet argued pushed for more effective Labor Standards Offices to eliminate unpaid wages and unpaid overtime. One sign of progress was the action of the Education Ministry in sending out notices to boards of education telling them to stop using illegal servicing contracts (gyomu itaku) for ALTs. Another issue raised was the increasing use of fixed-term non-renewable contracts. In support of this and other contentions, Robert Lohmann, UTU president, presented the translation of The University Teachers Union Survey of Foreign Nationals at Japanese Universities 2004. Over a quarter of the respondents were on fixed-term contracts, which threatened the security and livelihoods of teachers, both foreign and Japanese, and their families. Lohmann appealed for issues raised by the survey to be further investigated, and called for greater legal protection and security for foreign workers. Evan Heimlich, chair of the Kobe University Branch of Education Workers Amalgamated Union (EWA) Osaka, then raised the issue of the Tokunin systems which require foreign language teachers, with the expiration of their contracts, to compete for their own posts against ?fresh? applicants.

A statement in Japanese was presented to Inoue-san and the ministries’ officials. It generated considerable comment by the officials, but as in past hearings, on contract issues the bureaucrats consistently shirked responsibility. They referred to discriminatory policies as labor-management issues for adjudication on a case-by-case basis by the Labor Relations Commission.

Ten days later, at a hearing in the Diet Building, Representative Inoue posed questions to MEXT Minister Nariaki Nakayama concerning the state of English and other foreign language education in Japan with reference to the working conditions of foreign teachers in Japan. Inoue is concerned with the needs of Japan for native speaker language teachers in a changing economy and their treatment in Japan. Representatives of University Teachers Union, Fukuoka General Union, and the EWA have presented these issues to Inoue-san and other Diet members for discussion in hearings before Ministries officials.

Discriminatory practices against foreign workers in Japan are long-standing and well-documented. Union members must take focused, directed and ongoing action to overcome the institutional and cultural biases that constrain our actions and discount our contributions to our host country.