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.