Tozen Organisers Louis Carlet and Orren Frankham discuss the paid leave system in Japanese workplaces.
By: Veronika Danovich
When Shane Corporation teachers checked their payslips on Tuesday September 15, 2020, they noticed a new category listed as “Repayment.” Teachers at the language school had negotiated to stop the company from taking this dreadful action. In July, the school informed them of a surprise loan that had been imposed on them during Japan’s lockdown months, initially understood as salary. Since then, the company has made no effort to negotiate in good faith.
On August 28, newly elected teacher representatives met with Principal Alex Cox and Director Ian Holden. According to the minutes, “the average monthly deduction will be around 35,000 yen over 8 months” for teachers who were pushed into option 1 who could keep their paid leave but are required to pay back the salary that was paid to them during lockdown. Some teachers report being deducted upwards of 40,000 yen. Many teachers have expressed concern over illegal deductions made without their consent. They are also worried about the continued financial hardship they face with lower pay that will continue for 7 more paychecks.
Teachers pushed into option 2 were permitted to keep the salary that was paid to them; however they have lost most of their paid leave and were told to work 6-day weeks to make up the days they owe for when the company was under lockdown. Certain district managers have told option 2 teachers that if they do not finish making up the extra days by March 31, 2021, then they will also be deducted for the remainder of this odious debt. Some teachers feel this is a trap and that no matter what option they choose; they will still get their wages docked. Other teachers report that they make themselves available for 6-day weeks but are still given no extra work and are told that there are no lessons to make up in certain districts. They worry that even though they make an effort to comply with what the company dictates; they will still get deducted.
The two “options” as the company called it, were not options at all. Teachers were forced to choose one or the other and if they refused to choose, they were forced onto option 1. Japanese staff were given no options, were deducted before teachers were and will be docked for 6 more paychecks. Initially, teachers were told that they would be deducted 50% from their paychecks for two consecutive months which forced many panicked and stressed teachers to choose option 2 due to the fear of suddenly not being able to pay their bills and other necessary expenses. However, the company later decided the “repayments” would be divided between 8 paychecks. This decision came without sufficient notice as the deadline the company set to decide on the options they forced upon teachers had passed.
Some option 2 teachers have requested to be reclassified to option 1 due to this new information, but the company refused, citing the deadline. Option 2 teachers are now forced to work during holidays mandated in their contracts, which the company says does not count towards the days owed. Shane offers no additional pay. According to Shane’s General Directives and Guidelines for Teachers section 5.1; “Teachers will earn a daily bonus of ¥15,000 for voluntarily working on a non-scheduled day of work” The company chooses to ignore these rules for option 2 teachers.
Following the deduction, on Wednesday September 16, 22 teachers struck in response to the company’s actions. Teachers gathered in front of Shane schools in the Chiba and Saitama districts to hand out flyers to passersby and inform them about the treatment of teachers. “We did not consent to this” was written on one side of the flyers, while the other side provided public access articles and information detailing Shane’s actions regarding corona pay and taking away paid leave.
Union membership continues to increase with both Japanese and foreign staff. The union will not give up in their efforts to negotiate despite the company trying to delay and refusing any real discussion of union demands. We want to come to some kind of an agreement with management before escalating to further legal action. Shane needs to take these demands seriously and realize what they are doing is not ok by any legal or moral standards.
Paid leave. The long form in Japanese is nenji yūkyū kyūka; the short form is yūkyū. For workers, yūkyū is a day of “complete liberation from toil,” as one scholar put it.
The right to rest fully is vital in ensuring that workers enjoy long, healthy and anxiety-free lives. Unfortunately, some employers do all they can to discourage their employees from actually taking paid leave, setting up artificial obstacles, insinuating they are lazy and using peer pressure to keep them at their work stations.
I myself teach at a university, and many of my members at Tozen Union are also teachers. I find that teachers in particular find it very difficult to freely take paid leave, and many more are unaware of the government’s guarantee of paid leave. Foreign teachers in particular may be unfamiliar with the law.