Chiba city’s native speaker English classes canceled after ALT contracts found illegal

Public schools here have been unable to start their native speaker-taught English classes this school year after the city’s board of education was accused of violating labor laws with foreign language teachers.

According to the Kashiwa Municipal Board of Education, it has been instructed by the local labor office to change its labor relationship with foreign assistant language teachers (ALTs) in the city’s elementary and junior high schools after it engaged in illegal employment practices.

The local education board entrusted part of its English curriculum for primary and secondary school students to a Tokyo-based staffing agency between 2007 and 2009, and a total of 23 foreign teachers belonging to the agency worked as ALTs at 61 local public elementary and junior high schools during this period. Their contracts expired at the end of last month.

A local labor union supporting foreign language teachers complained to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s Chiba labor office that the teachers were forced to work as temporary workers under the guise of subcontractors, while demanding the municipality extend their contract periods.

In response to the complaint, the labor office launched an investigation and confirmed that each school placed the foreign teachers under its direct supervision even though they worked under consigning contracts. The labor office then concluded that the education board forced the teachers to work as temporary workers under the guise of subcontractors, a practice that constitutes a violation of the Worker Dispatching Act.

Under the current law, companies and other business operators must offer a direct contract to their temporary workers after they have completed the first three years of work. Moreover, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s labor guidelines require a minimum three-month interval before the two parties enter into another temporary contract.

The city’s board of education had planned to terminate its English class teacher outsourcing contract and employ temporary English teachers directly starting this April. However, as the labor office judged that the education board had already forced its contracted foreign teachers to work as normal temporary staff, it became impossible for the city to renew the contracts right away, in accordance with the ministry guidelines prohibiting consecutive temporary contracts of over three years.

The local education board has announced that it will comply with the labor office’s order and will resume relevant English classes after the three-month waiting period expirees in July.

In August last year, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology instructed local boards of education nationwide to switch consigning contracts for ALTs to either direct or temporary employment. A subsequent survey by the ministry has revealed that 670 municipalities still maintained their outsourcing arrangements for native English class teachers, of which 439 responded they were not planning to change their current practices.

The ministry’s International Education Division has requested each education board consult with their local labor office and make corrections as needed.