Gaba ‘contractor’ status under fire from staff, courts

Yet after stepping off the tarmac at Narita in August this year, William’s new life in Japan began to turn into something of a nightmare, and the source of the trouble was his new job working for Gaba as an English teacher.

According to William, his troubles began back home in the States when he was interviewed for a teaching position at Gaba by webcam.

“They told me I would be legally required to teach 160 lessons per month for visa sponsorship at a rate of ¥1,500 per lesson. But that didn’t happen.”

William says that rather than the 40 lessons he was promised, he averaged only around 25 — 30 on a good week, and sometimes as low as 10. “This was a source of conflict between myself and my management,” he says.

Despite the fact he was teaching what amounted to a part-time schedule, he had to be in the workplace 40 hours a week or more.

“I would be sitting around in a booth — they would call it a booth, but I would call it essentially a prison cell — and you are expected to sit there until something falls off the cart,” he says.

Gaba teachers are only paid for lessons taught, so the additional time William spent at the studio waiting for lessons was unpaid, yet the company, he says, expected him to be there at all times.

“Once I was verbally disciplined for going out to get lunch. I was verbally warned by my supervisor. . . . He said, ‘You need to be preparing your lesson notes and you need to look to the client like you are doing work and not going out and getting lunch. ‘ And I said, ‘OK, but on the other hand, I am a human being and I need to eat, and I am not being paid for this time so you don’t have the right to tell me that.’ “

Gaba is the only large eikaiwa chain in Japan that doesn’t pay travel costs to teachers commuting to training or work, so attending training would not only have cut into William’s teaching hours, it would actually have cost him money.

William refused to do any further training, and this put him at odds with his supervisors at Gaba, a situation that was exacerbated when he took two days off work.

“I had to go to the hospital because I literally couldn’t talk and found out I had a throat infection,” explains William. “They made me meet with the regional manager and told me not to miss any more days. They told me they were going to reduce my schedule as punishment.”

As an overseas recruit, Gaba was also the sponsor of William’s working visa, which made him feel particularly insecure.

“I felt very depressed, anxious, uncertain about what I was going to do. I was afraid I would have to go home. At this time I wasn’t making enough money monthly to pay anything more than pay my rent — I was losing money,” he recalls. “One day I went in for 8½ hours and I actually lost money going to work because none of my lessons booked. I figured out later on that this had something to do with the fact they had deleted my schedule from the client view of the instructors on their website.”

A complaint sometimes leveled by former Gaba instructors is that their learning studio manager or supervisor reduced their teaching schedule, and thus income, in order to discipline or control them.

In the Gaba employment contract that all teachers working in nonmanagerial roles sign, it states that “All instructors at Gaba teach under an Itaku, or entrusted, contract. The terms of this kind of system are different from employment. Entrusted instructors are essentially independent contractors that have been contracted to provide an established service, namely English instruction.”

In addition, many teachers also sign an “Entrusted Contract Awareness” document, which says: “Itaku contractors are not committed to fixed working hours as salaried employees are. We do not assign set work schedules but rely on instructors to inform us when they are available. Although we offer flexible scheduling, our peak times of operation are early weekday mornings, weekday evenings and all days weekends.”

Despite the fact that official company policy states they offer “flexible scheduling,” stories such as Herve’s and William’s suggest that, at least in some cases, pressure is put on instructors to choose shifts that fit the needs of the company alone.

Gaba teachers have even less freedom, despite their status as itaku contractors, with regards to dress.

Gaba was recently purchased by Japanese medical services company Nichii Gakkan for ¥10 billion. Earlier this month Canadian Bruce Anderson replaced Kenji Kamiyama as CEO of Gaba.

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